William Kyle Carpenter, a Marine Corps veteran from Gilbert who was severely wounded in 2010 while fighting in Afghanistan, next month will receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s top award for valor, the White House announced Monday.
He is the third Marine to receive the Medal of Honor from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the first South Carolinian to receive the decoration since the Vietnam War. He will be the eighth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Carpenter, 24, was wounded when he threw himself on a grenade to save a friend and fellow Marine’s life. The young corporal lost his right eye and most of his teeth. His jaw and right arm were shattered and he has undergone dozens of surgeries.
Carpenter was a student at the University of South Carolina last fall studying physical education. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
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President Barack Obama will award Carpenter the Medal of Honor on June 19, at a ceremony at the White House “to commemorate his example of selfless service.”
Retired Maj. Gen. James Livingston, the only remaining Medal of Honor recipient living in South Carolina, called Carpenter “an exceptional role model.”
“He will be an excellent example for his generation and especially for his generation of Marines,” Livingston told The State from his home in Mount Pleasant. “He’s got a big requirement in front of him, but he will do a great job.”
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley also offered well wishes to Carpenter Monday.
“Kyle’s story is one of tremendous patriotism and selfless service and represents the very best of what our military men and women are willing to sacrifice while defending the liberties we all hold so dear,” she said in a release. “He has made his nation proud, and Michael and I join all South Carolinians in sending our most sincere congratulations and gratitude to Kyle and his family.”
Carpenter was born in Flowood, Miss., on Oct. 17, 1989, and graduated from W. Wyman King Academy in Batesburg. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 2009 in Columbia and completed his basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island later that year.
Carpenter, in a 2011 interview with The State, said his unit in 2010 was fighting in a village they called Shadier because it was between two other villages they named Shady and Shadiest. During the firefight, a hand grenade landed in front of Carpenter and his best friend in Afghanistan, Cpl. Nick Eufrazio of Plymouth, Mass.
Carpenter absorbed most of the blast, which took his right eye, many of his teeth and mangled his right arm, among other injuries. A sliver of shrapnel went into Eufrazio’s brain.
Carpenter just remembers seeing the grenade. Then a white flash. Then a fellow Marine telling him he would be fine. Then, four weeks later, he woke up in a hospital in Germany.
“The second I woke up, I saw my family by my bedside,” he said at the time. “I took 99 percent of the blast. But one little piece of shrapnel got by me and went into (Eufrazio’s) brain.”
Both men were treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.
After the story in The State, Carpenter was featured in two stories in the Marine Corps Times in 2012, a feature story in Readers Digest and on syndicated talk shows.
Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Kroll, Carpenter’s platoon sergeant, told Marine Corps Times that no one in the unit knows exactly what happened, but “our feeling has always been that Kyle shielded Nick from that blast.”
In an interview Monday with the Washington Post, Carpenter said he received the phone call from President Obama formally notifying him that he would receive the award, while surrounded by his family, he said.
Carpenter credited the Marines in his unit — 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, of Camp Lejeune, N.C. — for saving his life and helping him recover, the newspaper reported. Many of them will be attending the ceremony.
“They’ve absolutely been a tremendous support and a tremendous help through this journey, and I feel comfortable that I could call many of them,” he told the Post. “I feel like we’ll always be there for each other and have a special place for each other.”