Kyle Carpenter, right, smiles on the field before a game between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros on June 17, in Washington. On June 19 Carpenter will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions while serving in Afghanistan. (Alex Brandon / AP)
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Nearly four years ago, Marine veteran William Kyle Carpenter was broken on the battlefield by an enemy grenade blast.
Today, he’ll stand before a crowd at the White House as President Obama places the Medal of Honor around his neck.
Carpenter, a 24-year-old medically retired corporal from Lexington, S.C., becomes just the second living Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the eighth recipient from the wars overall.
He earned the honor Nov. 21, 2010 during a deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan, when he jumped on a live grenade to save the life of his friend and comrade, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, while both were standing watch on a rooftop.
The path to this moment has been long and difficult. Carpenter was severely injured by the blast, which mangled his jaw, splintered his arm, and caused him to lose his right eye.
His recovery has required more than 40 surgeries, though Carpenter has demonstrated his physical resiliency throughout the process. He can now do pull-ups with his reconstructed right arm, and has completed the Marine Corps Marathon and a tough mudder race.
Carpenter was submitted for the military’s highest honor in 2010, but the awards process has moved slowly, in part because the Medal of Honor standard requires two witnesses. Carpenter has said he does not remember what happened prior to being wounded, and Eufrazio sustained traumatic brain injuries from the blast that have limited his ability to communicate.
But the troops who first treated Carpenter discovered that the blast seat of the grenade--its detonation point--was directly underneath him. And Marines in his platoon told Marine Corps Times they quickly figured out what had happened.
“When EOD did a post-blast analysis, they said there’s no way that he didn’t jump on it,” said Michael Tinari, then a lance corporal from Carpenter’s platoon in 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, in a March interview.
The Marine Corps officially announced that Carpenter would receive the award in May.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind, said Carpenter’s mother, Robin Carpenter.
“We are so proud of Kyle,” she said. “It is still very surreal and I don't expect that we will ever be able to grasp the enormity of this most honorable and important award.”
She and Carpenter’s other immediate and extended family members will be at the ceremony today, as well as members of his unit and medical staff from Walter Reed Hospital who cared for him.
In the days before the ceremony, Carpenter said he’s been taking things “an hour at a time.”
“The recognition has definitely picked up in the past few days,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot sometimes. People just want to say thank you and just want to meet me. And I’m honored and humbled by that.”
Carpenter has said that for now he’s focused on completing his degree at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he will be a sophomore in the fall.