MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – A Marine with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing received a personal invitation to Washington, D.C., for Cpl. William “Kyle” Carpenter’s Medal of Honor ceremony, June 19.
As a former drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Staff Sgt. Luke Billingsley, now a quality assurance representative with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MALS) 16 and an Albany, Ga., native, hoped to make an impact on his recruits and beloved Corps.
He couldn’t contain his surprise when he received a call inviting him to the White House for Cpl. William “Kyle” Carpenter’s Medal of Honor ceremony.
When the caller had told him the news, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and had to have the invitation repeated a second time.
Billingsley first met Carpenter as a recruit. He could still recall his former recruit’s days under his tutelage as a member of Platoon 1040, Company “B,” 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment.
“He was a special recruit,” said Billingsley with a smile. “I remembered the biggest thing about him was on the crucible, he tiptoed. He was shorter than the other recruits and had to work harder than a lot of them to keep up and keep going. He could have ridden in the safety vehicle, but he chose to be there with the person to his left and his right. That showed me how special he was and on family day I gave him the eagle, globe and anchor off of my [hat].”
He proved his mettle and showed Billingsley he had what it took to proudly bear the title of United States Marine and carry out what they had taught him.
After graduation, Billingsley kept in touch with the Marines of Platoon 1040 to provide guidance and mentorship as they went on in their careers. It was through another of his former recruits that Billingsley heard what happened to Carpenter.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Carpenter served as an automatic rifleman with Company “F,” 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team-1, 1st Marine Division (Forward), 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). Insurgents threw a grenade onto the rooftop where Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, his friend and fellow rifleman, and he stood guard. Carpenter threw himself over the explosive to save his brother-in-arms without thought to his own life.
“I was stunned to find out what happened,” explained Billingsley. “Right then and there I asked myself, ‘What kind of training [had] we provided down on Parris Island that would make an individual do that?’ I contacted his family, kept in touch with him, supported him and just kept telling him to stay in the fight. I told him to keep fighting, and he has.”
Billingsley kept in contact with the junior Marine. He’s bought newspapers featuring articles about the Medal of Honor recipient to keep and spread word of Carpenter’s story in any way he could.
Where Billingsley inspired Carpenter, now Carpenter inspires Billingsley, explained the former drill instructor.
“As a drill instructor, you train recruits to become United States Marines, to be the best at what they do, to look after the person to their left and right,” said Billingsley. “We don’t look for recognition, or to be praised. When I think about this, because I think about being invited to this ceremony every day, I think about how I had that kind of impact on Carpenter. It’s a very humbling experience.”
While training, drill instructors are not conscious of the impact they will have on recruits, explained Billingsley.
“You only hope that you're doing everything right so that the new Marine will have a solid foundation set upon graduation of recruit training,” said Billingsley. “You don't know the true impact you will have on the men you meet while training, and you won't ever be aware that you could possibly have the next Medal of Honor recipient training in your platoon.”
On June 19, President Barack Obama honored Carpenter by presenting him with the Medal of Honor.
“The ceremony was awesome,” described Billingsley. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘I still have my Eagle, Globe and Anchor.’ Carpenter and I spoke the day before, then on the day of the ceremony as well.”
Billingsley went on to explain that he and Carpenter visited the National Museum of the Marine Corps together. They spoke at length, and Billingsley said he isn’t worried a medal of this magnitude will affect Carpenter.
“Kyle is a very humble individual and the Medal of Honor hasn’t changed that at all,” said Billingsley. “I spoke to another Marine who was in his platoon when deployed, and he said all Kyle was worried about after he got hurt was making sure his friend was okay.”
Carpenter later expressed why he was so proud to wear the medal at a 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing evening colors ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., June 23.
“I’m not different from [any other Marine],” said Carpenter. “We all raised our right hand, knowing the risk, and going into harm’s way. To those who serve, it’s been an honor serving with you. Be proud of who you are and what you do. Thank you for adding to our incredible legacy. When I’m out there, I’m out there trying to make you proud and bring the spotlight on to our incredible Marine Corps. Thank you – semper fidelis.”
Billingsley plans to continue guiding and mentoring his Marines, just as he did with Carpenter, to further prepare them for whatever challenges may come their way – with pride, humility and love of Corps and country.