Posted: Wednesday, May 28th 2014 at 7:30pm
Marine to get Medal of Honor for blocking grenade; has Gainesville connections
By The Associated Press
Medically retired Marine Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter speaking to media at the Pentagon last week. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Cpl. Kyle Carpenter remembers lying on his back on a rooftop in Marjah, Afghanistan, crammed up against sandbags alongside his friend and fellow Marine, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio.
It was Nov. 21, 2010, and his squad was trying to push south into Taliban strongholds, working to set up patrol bases and establish a stronger U.S. Marine presence in the volatile region.
He doesn't recall the attack. He doesn't remember throwing himself in front of Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio to protect him from a grenade, an act that will make him the eighth living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the few seconds between the blast and unconsciousness are clear.
The impact felt like his face and body had been hit with a two-by-four, he said, his vision was blurry and there was a loud ringing in his ears. The blood felt like warm water flowing over his face, and as he ran his tongue around his mouth, he couldn't feel his jaw.
"I remember my buddies yelling at me, it sounded like they were a football field away. I remember them yelling, you know, you're gonna make it, you're gonna make it. And I just kept trying to tell them that I was gonna die," Carpenter said recently in an interview with a small group of reporters at the Pentagon.
As he drifted off, he said he remembers realizing how devastated his family would be that he wasn't getting out of Afghanistan alive. And then, he said, "I asked for forgiveness ... I wanted to go to heaven."
The White House says that Carpenter, 24, will receive the Medal of Honor on June 19.
He accepts it with a heavy dose of humility and Southern charm befitting a native of Flowood, Mississippi.
"As many firefights and instances where there’s been opportunity, Marines have stepped up to the plate — not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but since the beginning of our country,” Carpenter said. "So I truly feel like I’m on an even playing field.”
Though he eventually moved to South Carolina where he finished high school, Carpenter spent part of his childhood in Gainesville. Friends recently recalled that he attended McEver Elementary School and West Hall Middle School as well as First Baptist Church on Green Street.
Kaitlin Law is one of them. She remembers him as "one of the most positive people I have ever met."
"He always had a smile on his face that would light up everyone's day. He was always such a gentleman. Kyle was always looking for ways to help others. He has been through so much and fought so hard for our country and our freedom. I couldn't think of anyone more deserving of the Medal of Honor. He is a true hero!"
WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY IN AFGHANISTAN
Asked to recount the incident, he's frustrated that he doesn't recall the details or what he was thinking as the grenade landed.
He and Eufrazio were ready for a fight. Carpenter's squad was trying to secure Patrol Base Dakota, and two Marines had been wounded in an enemy attack the day before. At about 10 a.m., insurgents threw three grenades. The third landed on the rooftop and, according to a Marine Corps report, Carpenter moved to shield Eufrazio.
Eufrazio received a shrapnel injury to his head, but Carpenter's body absorbed most of the blast.
Asked about his injuries, Carpenter glances skeptically at a notebook and smiles. "You're gonna need more room on that paper."
Six weeks after the blast, he woke up in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
When he opened his left eye, he said, "the only thing I could really make out in my room was right in front of my bed on the wall. My mom had hung our whole family's Christmas stockings. So that was my first memory."
Over the next two-and-a-half years doctors rebuilt his teeth and face, and saved his arm. Surrounded by family and friends, and deluged with letters from all over the country, he said he viewed the recovery not as a struggle, but a goal.
The hardest part?
"Going from toting a machine gun in Afghanistan ... to using a bed pan and I can't even put my own socks on," he said. "It took eight months or so to be able to put my socks on, on my own, but it was a long eight months. But I guess that was the hardest part. Letting other people help me."
Now a student at the University of South Carolina, Carpenter, who was medically retired from the Marine Corps July 30, 2013, says his time at Walter Reed gave him a new perspective on life. As he started to recuperate he took hospital-sponsored trips to ski and snowboard, he went skydiving, and last year he completed the Marine Corps Marathon. And he wants people to treat all veterans as heroes, the way he is being treated.
Although the recovery process seemed endless and small tasks required assistance, Carpenter overcame the odds and has a new outlook on life from the entire tragedy, he said. He is grateful for all the help and support he received.
“I’ve just been very fortunate that I’ve had not only my family, but friends, Marines and the community of South Carolina,” Carpenter said, “Early on in my recovery, the entire United States seemed to be supportive. Letters flooded in from all over the place, so from the second I woke up in the hospital, I’ve always had a great team and great people. I’ve been very fortunate.”
Even with such a great honor as the Medal of Honor bestowed on him, he remains humble.
“As many firefights and instances where there’s been opportunity, Marines have stepped up to the plate — not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but since the beginning of our country,” Carpenter said “So I truly feel like I’m on an even playing field.”
He is now a full-time student at the University of South Carolina, but does miss the Marine Corps, he said.
Carpenter’s fondest memories are being deployed with his fellow Marines in Afghanistan. To him, nothing will compare to months without a shower, sleeping in the dirt and being with 50 of his best friends.
“If I look at it that way, I’m very thankful for Afghanistan and it really means a lot to me,” Carpenter said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
As for the White House ceremony in June, he's says he's proud of what he did. But, he quips about the grenade, "to be honest, I don't know why I didn't get that thing and punt it right back to them."
AP Broadcast reporter Sagar Meghani, AccessNorthGa.com's Ken Stanford and Lance Cpl. Eric Keenan contributed to this report.
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