Heroism in the Blink of an Eye
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter insists when he’s asked. Eight years later, he doesn’t remember much about that November 21, 2010 day in southwestern Afghanistan. It’s frustrating, he says, not to be able to connect all of the pieces. But what Kyle can’t explain, his scars do. They’re the markings of a hero — the kind who was willing to die to save the life of his best friend.
Like most Marines in that part of the world, Kyle says their “alarm clock” was usually the sound of AK-47s. To help the military get a better foothold in the area, his squad was asked to create a new patrol post in an area full of Taliban. They knew, he told reporter Paul Szoldra, they’d take fire. “It was pretty much guaranteed enemy contact. It was definitely a rough deployment up to that point.” And it only got worse. By the next day, he and his best friend, Lance Corporal Nick Eufrazio, were posted on a rooftop, flat on their backs, while rounds of gunfire ripped through their wall of sandbags.
Eventually, the Taliban got access to the building next door and lobbed three grenades into the Marines’ compound. One injured an Afghan soldier, another exploded out of harm’s way, and the third landed on the roof — right next to the two Marines. “I only remember a few moments after I got hit,” Kyle says now. “But nothing before.” Without a second’s hesitation, he jumped on the grenade to shield Nick — knowing it would cost him his life.
Doctors said later that virtually no one survives a blast like that, especially not after absorbing all of it. Drenched in blood with his eardrums ruptured and his face unrecognizable, Kyle remembers thinking about his family and how upset they’d be that he didn’t make it home. Shrapnel had taken his right eye, and not knowing how much longer he had, Kyle spent his last minute of consciousness “mak[ing] peace with God, because I knew from how I felt and how much blood that I could feel I was losing — I knew that I was not gonna wake up.”
Thanks to a corpsmen and three other Marines, Kyle did wake up — a month and a half later. Despite his heart stopping, and injuries down the length of his body, his squadron kept him alive long enough to get real help. Back home at Walter Reed hospital, the medical team worked day and night. “Kyle was literally wounded from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet,” his surgeons say in an emotional interview. The force of the blast was so intense that it drove mud into his skin like tattoos, staining his face and arms — in some places, permanently. His mandible had been shattered into multiple pieces like glass — losing almost all of his teeth. It took 20 operations, doctors say, until Kyle’s smile started to look like his own again.
But he doesn’t regret it — not for one second. “As Marines, it’s drilled into us from the moment we step on the yellow footprints, to take care of [our] fellow Marines. I know that if a thousand other Marines were put in my situation, they would do the same thing for me.” When people ask him what he’d change about that day, he jokes, “I mean I would grab that [grenade] and kick it right back. But besides that … I wouldn’t change anything. We’re both alive.”
Four years after the split-second decision that would change his life, Kyle Carpenter stood on his own power in the White House, the Medal of Honor hanging around his neck. It’s an award, most people will tell you, that not many aspire to. It requires such a sacrificial act that less than 20 have been handed down to service members in Afghanistan since 2001. “I’m always going to [do] everything I can to protect those ideas and our way of life…” Kyle promises. “It’s a purpose and a calling, just something very special that I don’t think would or could ever leave you.”
Everyone who pulls on the uniform of the United States military shares that calling. And as a veteran of the Marine Corps, I am honored to be a part of the lineage of America’s warriors — those willing to fight and willing to sacrifice for the good of others. There are thousands of stories like Kyle’s — stories of devotion, courage, and determination. And there are those who have sacrificed all.
Even today, as our troops fight the faraway forces of terror, there are still flag-draped caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base. There are still fresh graves watered by families’ tears at Arlington and across America. And while other veterans suffer from wounds no eye can see, millions of others stand ready, willing to give “the last full measure of devotion” to let strangers pursue the freedom and happiness so many served to give us. Today, we honor the men and women who answered the question in Isaiah 6:8: “‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’” May God continue to bless all of those who stand in harm’s way, their families, and America.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC Action senior writers.