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This Day in History: Kyle Carpenter, youngest living Medal recipient

On this day in 2010, a hero throws himself on a grenade, saving the life of his fellow Marine. Amazingly, Kyle Carpenter survived that terrible experience. Today, he is the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Carpenter grew up a self-described “typical kid,” at least until he went on a high school mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The trip challenged him, and his changed focus prompted him to enlist in the military. “I joined the Marine Corps,” he explained, “because I wanted to devote my life, my body, if need be, to something greater than myself or any one individual.”

He did just that as he served near Marjah, Afghanistan, in 2010.

“It was very hot,” he remembered. “Very rugged, tough terrain to not only navigate, but to operate in. Flooded farmlands, flooded fields, wading through sewage canals to avoid IED’s. It was a difficult deployment. There was a lot of fighting every single day, sun up to sun down.”

Carpenter’s heroism came on November 21, a day he now calls his “Alive Day.” He and his fellow Marine, Nick Eufrazio, had been assigned to rooftop security near the perimeter of a village. The mood was “eerie,” Carpenter says, while there was a lull in the fighting. Their four-hour shift was nearly complete.

One of the guys for the next shift began putting on his gear nearby. Just then an enemy grenade was lobbed onto the rooftop.

Carpenter doesn’t remember the moment that the grenade hit, but a forensic investigation determined that he threw himself on the grenade, shielding Eufrazio. A few Marines and a Navy Corpsman immediately rushed to Carpenter’s aid, fighting to keep him alive.

“I felt like I got hit really hard in the face,” Carpenter said of those moments. “My vision was as if I was looking at a TV with no connection, it was just white and gray static. I thought about my family and how devastated they were going to be, especially my mother.”

He closed his eyes, thinking it would be for the last time. “As I was going unconscious,” he recalled, “I kept telling them ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.’ And they just kept getting on my nerves and coming back with ‘You’re gonna make it; you’re gonna survive.’”

Carpenter didn’t wake up for five weeks. By then, he was at Walter Reed Hospital, surrounded by family.

His mom had decorated his room for Christmas.

Carpenter lost his right eye and most of his teeth. He had 30 fractures in his right arm, and shrapnel in his brain. He would spend more than a year at Walter Reed, enduring dozens of surgeries. Then he began the long physical rehabilitation process.

He realized that he had a choice. “I was either going to get up and live the rest of my life,” he wrote. “Or, I could spend my life sitting . . . I chose to get up and live.”

By the time he received the Medal in 2014, he was running marathons, skydiving, skiing, and living life to its fullest. “With this second chance that I’ve been blessed with,” he resolved, “it’s really made me want to go out and tackle life head-on with full force.”

Being a Medal of Honor recipient is part of that journey, of course. He’s called the responsibility a “beautiful burden, but one I am honored to carry.”

“It’s a difficult Medal to wear because of what comes with it,” he explained. “It represents our country, our history. Those that have given life and limb. The Medal represents sacrifice . . . .”

He encourages everyone to work for our country, however the opportunity presents itself. “Don’t go through every day just thinking that we’re just here because we’re here,” he concluded. “We got here because of incredible amounts of courage and sacrifice.”

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