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Youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, Marine is building a life worth fighting for

Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, Medal of Honor recipient, recieved his Medal of Honor flag during a parade in his honor at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., June 20, 2014. Carpenter is the third Marine to recieve the Medal of Honor since the beginning of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. (Cpl. Larry Babilya/U.S. Marine Corps)

Lying near death in a pool of his own blood, Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter knew it was over.

He thought about his life and his family, said a final prayer of forgiveness, closed his eyes, and drifted away into unconsciousness.

Five weeks later, the young Marine woke up halfway around the world in a hospital bed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The room was filled with Christmas decorations arranged by his mother.

“How I felt physically is all I remember about that day,” said Carpenter.

Carpenter was facing his next battle, which would include more than 40 surgeries and a lengthy, challenging and courageous recovery.

On Nov. 21, 2010, Carpenter and a fellow Marine were standing guard on a rooftop in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when the enemy initiated a brazen daylight attack. During the fight, a hand grenade landed inside Carpenter’s position and without hesitation, Carpenter lunged toward it to shield his teammate.

The grenade exploded, shooting red-hot shrapnel into Carpenter’s skull and through both of his legs. He was blinded in the right eye, lost most of his teeth, ruptured both eardrums, suffered a collapsed lung, and sustained 30 fractures to the right arm.

Now medically retired, Carpenter, 30, is the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor and is the eighth living recipient to be honored for actions in Afghanistan. The Mississippi native was presented the nation’s highest honor for valor on June 9, 2014, by President Barack Obama at the White House.

He’s also written a new book, “You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For,” which was released Oct. 15. Carpenter said the book is for anyone who has been knocked down physically, mentally or emotionally and wants to come back stronger than ever, overcoming whatever challenges they face.

Carpenter said he was never discouraged from starting the book, but didn’t know what direction he wanted to take.

“I didn’t want to write a book that only service members, veterans or people who had been in combat could understand,” Carpenter said. “I knew that I wanted to write something that transcended all boundaries and that anyone and everyone, from Fortune 500 CEOs to a homeless person unfortunately living on the street, could pick up and not only understand and read, but could takes lessons from.”

Carpenter said the initial concept for his book came from a time when he was standing in the meet-and-greet line at the Commandant’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Washington, D.C.

“A Marine whose rack [military ribbons] and rank told me he had seen a lot approached me and told me that he had not taken his own life because if I could get up with what I had been through with a smile on my face every day, he could, too,” said Carpenter. “That was too powerful, too profound for me to even comprehend at the time.”

But Carpenter knew he possessed something that could possibly help others, regardless of where they came from, or who they were.

“Even as a lance corporal and someone who had been in only a couple of years, I thought, I have a platform and I can really help other people and I don’t think I truly realized it up until that moment,” said Carpenter.

Carpenter earned a degree from the University of South Carolina after retiring from the Corps.

Before writing the book, his life had become overwhelming. He was traveling a lot, and as he met people along the way, they would freely share with him their own personal struggles.

“I had this light bulb moment and realized, oh, of course, I can write a book from the angle of struggle, because physically, mentally or emotionally, struggle is something that we can all relate to. … It’s a common thread throughout every single person on this earth,” Carpenter said.

Last Friday, just three days after the release of his book, Carpenter spoke to a group of well-wishers at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle.

At one point, he specifically addressed his fellow Marines in the audience, telling them, “We had a hundred different options in life and we walked into a recruiting station.”

“Our military is just as great today as it’s ever been,” he said. “We have just as many young people stepping up, with no one making them, voluntarily raising their right hand and giving up their life if their country and their brothers and sisters in arms call for it. Be extremely proud of yourself and your uniform.”

Twice during Carpenter’s presentation, he paused in mid-sentence, appearing to have lost his train of thought, but his humor and incredible good spirit shined, causing the audience to laugh.

“Sometimes when you fall on a grenade, you forget things,” he said.

Carpenter cites his family and a fellow Medal of Honor recipient as those who have inspired him.

“It was much harder to be on the other side of that hospital bed, knowing that my parents were living through that pain, suffering and burden with me,” Carpenter said.

But it’s retired Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer Hershel “Woody” Williams who motivates Carpenter on a unique, personal level.

Williams, the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, repeatedly charged Japanese forces during the Battle of Iwo Jima with a flame thrower, wiping out one enemy position after the other.

“I don’t even warm up to what he did,” Carpenter said.

At 96, Williams still builds monuments for Gold Star families and travels to speaking engagements across the world.

“I am continually in awe of him,” Carpenter said. “If everyone knew his story, I promise you, this country would wake up greater tomorrow.”


© 2019 The Free Lance-Star