President Barack Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor Thursday on an Afghan veteran who took the blow from a grenade to save a fellow Marine, praising him for displaying the type of valor that will inspire generations.
In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Obama placed the blue ribbon around the neck of retired Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter as family, military members and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel looked on. In all likelihood, Carpenter should have died that day in Afghanistan, Obama said, but the fact he survives gives the nation reason to believe in a higher power.
"This United States Marine faced down that terrible explosive power, that unforgiving force, with his own body, willingly and deliberately, to protect a fellow Marine."
Carpenter, now 24, was wounded Nov. 21, 2010, while guarding a patrol base in a small village in Helmand province.
According to the Marine Corps, Carpenter and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio were assigned to provide security from a rooftop post, their presence concealed only by a circle of sandbags piled three to four high.
Enemy forces, which had moved in while hidden by walls from a compound across the street, lobbed three grenades into the patrol base. One injured an Afghan National Army soldier. The second did not detonate.
The third landed close to Carpenter and Eufrazio.
Carpenter placed himself between the grenade and Eufrazio to shield him. The blast deflected down, with Carpenter absorbing most of the explosion.
Eufrazio received a head injury from shrapnel. But Carpenter was severely wounded, sustaining a depressed skull, a collapsed right lung, multiple facial fractures, the loss of a third of his lower jaw and fragment injuries to his arms and legs.
He was immediately evacuated and required brain surgery. He lost his right eye due to his injuries.
"You displayed a valor in the blink of an eye that will inspire generations," Obama said.
Carpenter was a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, until his retirement for medical reasons last July.
He is a native of Flowood, Mississippi, and now studies at the University of South Carolina.
Obama has presented the Medal of Honor to 39 members of the armed services in the first six years of his presidency.