Retired Marine Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter hopes to turn his new-found fame as a Medal of Honor recipient into something positive for others, and his first foray in that realm is helping publicize the South Carolina version of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk in September.
When Carpenter returned to South Carolina last year after spending three years in hospitals recovering from wounds received in 2010 in Afghanistan, his first goal was starting college at the University of South Carolina. Right behind that was finding some way to help others.
“I wanted to give back,” Carpenter said. “I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to volunteer.”
He had heard about the Tunnel to Towers runs, and how funds raised by the events go to pay for specially equipped homes for catastrophically injured service members. Having one of the Tunnel to Towers events – there are nine this year – in Columbia made it the ideal charity event for Carpenter.
The 24-year-old, whose family lives in Gilbert, received the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House on June 19. His commendation for the country’s top military honor detailed Carpenter throwing himself on a grenade to save a fellow Marine’s life. Carpenter lost his right eye and most of his teeth, his jaw and right arm were shattered and he underwent dozens of surgeries.
Since the White House ceremony, Carpenter has been interviewed by dozens of national media, including a long session with talk show host David Letterman, who seemed in awe of his interview subject. Carpenter came across as extraordinarily humble and brave with enough of a fun-loving side to make his Twitter handle @chiksdigscars.
Carpenter isn’t just lending his name to the Tunnel to Towers event. He has participated in the planning meetings, and he expects to continue in that role while juggling his academic demands at USC. He feels it’s the least he could do to honor the severely injured friends he made in the hospital during his long recuperation.
It’s important “to get the awareness out about the people who have served and worn the cloth of our nation, the people that are raising their right hand right now at a base somewhere ... and above all about those lives that were sacrificed for this nation on 9-11,” Carpenter said.
The races are named in honor of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter and father of five who was off-duty on Sept. 11, 2001. When he heard what had happened at the World Trade Center, he strapped on 60 pounds of gear and ran from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Siller lost his life that day trying to save others.
During the first Tunnel to Towers run in 2002, tens of thousands of people traced Siller’s steps. In recent years, organizers have set up additional runs in other cities. Columbia joined the list in 2013, with more than 2,000 participants, including more than 800 soldiers from Fort Jackson.
This year’s Columbia event is set to begin at 7 p.m., with a loop course starting on Lincoln Street in Columbia and looping over the Congaree River into Cayce and West Columbia and back up Gervais Street into Columbia. Participants can register at www.tunnel2towers.org.
Carpenter plans to run, but he doesn’t expect to be among the early finishers.
“Don’t judge me if I’m out of shape,” Carpenter said. “I am a college student, so give me some slack there.”