June 19 (Bloomberg) -- A former U.S. Marine Corps corporal who was severely wounded when he risked his life to shield a squad mate from a grenade blast in Afghanistan was awarded the nation’s highest military decoration today.
William “Kyle” Carpenter, 24, is the eighth living recipient of the Medal of Honor who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. He received the award from President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House.
“Kyle is a shining example of what our country needs to encourage,” Obama said.
Carpenter, now a student at the University of South Carolina, was medically retired from the service in July due to his injuries. He was at a rooftop observation post for a patrol base in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in November 2010 when it was attacked by Taliban fighters.
During the attack, a grenade landed where he and another lance corporal were in position, according to a Marine Corps account. Carpenter ran toward it, trying to shield the other Marine from the blast. When it detonated, Carpenter’s body absorbed most of the explosion, shattering his jaw and other bones, taking his right eye and collapsing a lung.
“They found Kyle lying face down. His helmet was riddled with holes. His gear was melted,” Obama said. “He sensed the end was coming.”
Carpenter spent five weeks in a coma and endured almost 40 surgeries.
“His total disregard for his own personal safety distinguishes his conduct above and beyond the call of duty in the face of certain death,” the Marine Corps’ citation says.
“I will wear this medal for the incredible medical staff that helped keep me alive and put me back together,” Carpenter told reporters after the ceremony. “I am proud to be a Marine. I am proud of those who have raised their right hand.”
He spoke inside the White House briefing room, typically reserved for administration officials, because his eye damage prevents him from tolerating bright sunlight outdoors.
The fellow Marine who Carpenter saved was also grievously injured and couldn’t speak for a year. He is recovering at home in Plymouth, Massachusetts, after treatment at the military medical center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he met Obama.
In May, Obama gave the Medal of Honor to Kyle J. White, a former Army sergeant turned investment analyst who fought off attackers when his unit was ambushed in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province on Nov. 9, 2007.
In March, Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 U.S. Army veterans for their valor in World War II, Korea or Vietnam. The recipients -- only three of whom were still living -- had been passed over for the honor because of their race, ethnicity or religion. They were the single largest group of service members to receive the Medal of Honor since World War II.
Obama presented the medal as he grapples with how the U.S. should respond to extremists seizing territory from the central government in Iraq. Today he said he’s sending as many as 300 U.S. military advisers to help the Iraqi army. The president has said the only option he isn’t considering is sending ground combat troops.
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