Since 1861, the highest possible honor in our military has been the Medal of Honor. Awarded for valor considered far above and beyond the normal call of duty, it is the greatest mark of our nation’s most selfless men. The first recipient ever was 1st Lieutenant Jacob Wilson Parrot, a member of the US Army and Civil War hero. In 1862, he volunteered for a risky mission that would become known as the Great Locomotive Chase; the team of men would be known as the Andrews Raiders. Their mission? Hijack a train and destroy the tracks and bridges along their way from Atlanta, GA, to Chattanooga, TN. They were successful, but were captured, and Parrot was tortured and beaten a reported 110 times before he made his escape. Of course, being a natural hero, Parrot simply returned to service and fought the rest of the war.
Abraham Lincoln gave our Civil War hero, Parrot, the first Medal of Honor on March 25, 1863; the next 5 recipients were other fearless members of the Andrews Raiders. Today, the medal remains the highest and most distinctive honor, and today we both honor and share some awe in the actions of our loyal Marine recipient: USMC Corporal Kyle Carpenter.
Everyone knows the United States Marine Corps is full of tough-as-nails fighters. Since 1775, when Marines were tasked with ship-to-ship fighting and enforcing discipline, to their evolution as they fought in almost every single conflict in US history, they’ve been hailed as some of the fiercest and bravest of American heroes. And when it comes to USMC fierce fighting units, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines – which has the nickname of “Hell in a Helmet” – is known for its bravery. 2/9 is infantry, and throughout history they’ve played instrumental roles, including their stand at Iwo Jima in World War II and service as lead battalion for III Marine Expeditionary Force during Operation Desert Storm. And after a brief deactivation in 1994, they were brought back in 2007 to take the place of the Anti-Terrorism Battalion. The 2/9 is hardcore, and that’s where Kyle Carpenter served.
Carpenter enlisted at the age of 19 and finished recruit training in July of 2009. Recruit training is rigorous; it’s a series of three 4-week phases with each phase broken into individual training days. Between the intense physical training, academics, marksmanship, swim qualifications, and confidence courses, only the strongest complete training. It ends with the Crucible, a 54-hour stretch of food and sleep deprivation, 45 miles of marching, combat simulations, and team building, among other strenuous activities. It’s a rite of passage for every Marine, and Kyle Carpenter came through ready to serve.
And serve he did. Carpenter was assigned to Fox Company, 2/9, Regimental Combat Team One, 1st Marine Division (Forward), 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The Helmand Province has long been known as a Taliban stronghold and has been the center of numerous deadly battles involving our Marines. Kyle Carpenter served there as a SAW gunner until November of 2010; it was November 21, 2010, just days prior to Thanksgiving, when the young Marine proved his mettle in the most courageous way possible.
On the day that would forever brand Kyle Carpenter as an American hero and loyal Marine, he’d been deployed to Marjah in the Helmand Province. His team was battling the Taliban in a village un-affectionately nicknamed Shadier by the Marines; it was located right between villages they called Shady and Shadiest. Then-Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter was positioned with another Marine, Lance Corporal Nicholas Eufrazio, atop a mud hut. The fighting was heated, and as Carpenter manned his SAW, an enemy combatant flung a grenade onto the roof.
As the grenade rolled towards the two Marines, one can only imagine how time slowed while simultaneously racing ahead. Odds are it was a time-delay fragmentation anti-personnel hand grenade; when the spoon is released, a chemical reaction begins, and it is only a matter of seconds before detonation. These grenades contain a variety of lethal fragments from metal pellets to serrated wire, not to mention the sharp fragments created by the metal case itself exploding. And the blasting power of a grenade is enormous; fragments can travel more than 660 feet. Brave men have used their helmets as a barrier between the grenade and their bodies with varying success, while most just throw their bodies over them. Chances of survival are desperately slim, making it the selfless act of a courageous man who cares only for the lives of his brothers. Kyle Carpenter is a selfless man.
There was no hesitation; Carpenter threw himself over the grenade in an attempt to shield fellow Marine Eufrazio. He undoubtedly expected it to be his final act, and he lay where he fell on the rooftop with calamitous wounds, his life seeping away as his blood soaked into the mud hut beneath him. Nearby Marines responded immediately and called for Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Christopher Frend. When Frend reached Carpenter, the horrifically wounded Marine’s body was still smoking. Pieces of both forearms were simply gone, and numerous bones were broken; the right side of his face was in ruins. But thanks to the actions of Frend and other Marines present, Carpenter and Eufrazio both stayed alive long enough to receive professional medical care.
In the days to come, Marine Kyle Carpenter would prove time and again to have the heart of a lion. He flat-lined repeatedly and was not expected to live, prompting the hospital to have a chaplain’s assistant present. But they didn’t count on our Marine’s tenacious will to live. He’s undergone more than 40 surgeries to date and more physical therapy than any one man should be forced to endure. He medically retired in 2013 after spending a daunting two and a half years in hospitals.
The bulk of the devastating blast was absorbed by Kyle Carpenter’s body, but ice-pick-sharp fragments of the grenade still managed to strike Eufrazio in the head. Although he did survive his injuries, sadly, his long-term outlook is heartbreaking. His brain injuries have left him unable to speak coherently, and he now weighs 110 pounds, according to his father. Eufrazio is currently at home with his family in Massachusetts. Despite the severity of his injury, he is alive, and one can only imagine his family cherishes their time with him. Kyle Carpenter, however, seems to blame himself for not doing a better job shielding Eufrazio. And while he may be tormented by what he perceives as a failure for the rest of his life, reality is he is not a failure; he made the greatest sacrifice any man can make for another. Eufrazio is alive. He is alive, and that is a gift beyond measure.
Although neither man was capable of relaying the events of that day, there was never any doubt as to what occurred. Marine Blake Schrieber had been standing watch when insurgents began throwing grenades; he heard a thump and one landed near him, but it ended up being a dud. Just after the dud rolled by, he watched from his vantage point on the ground as Kyle Carpenter threw himself downwards, towards the grenade on the rooftop. A thunderous boom sounded and was followed by bloodcurdling screams, and then other Marines were racing to the scene. And according to Frend, the Hospital Corpsmen who initially packed and tourniqueted his wounds, the blast seat of the grenade was directly beneath Carpenter’s body. That alone made it clear he had risked his life protecting his fellow Marine.
On June 19, 2014, Kyle Carpenter was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions in Afghanistan in 2010. At the time he received it, he was the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient and the 8th living recipient to be awarded for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite his numerous injuries, including the loss of his right eye and massive facial reconstruction for the loss of one-third of his jaw, he has run the Marine Corps Marathon, skis, snowboards, and has gone skydiving. He’s also now a full-time student at the University of South Carolina majoring in Psychology. One thing about Kyle Carpenter: he doesn’t know the meaning of taking it easy.
His smile is engaging, and the easy banter he shared with David Letterman in his first public appearance in late June of 2014 makes it easy to see why he is so well-liked. Marine veteran Brian Jones got it right when he described Carpenter as “a Marine’s Marine” and his father James says “his attitude actually lifted us up.” Platoon mate Brandon Woods mentioned his “good heart” and said he was “always cheerful.” He is a vibrant young man, and his charisma has garnered him a whopping 18,500 Twitter followers at the time of this writing. His handle? It’s @chiksdigscars. That’s right, he owns it. Of course.
Kyle Carpenter is an American Hero and a deeply loyal, selfless Marine, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.
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