Gilbert, South Carolina native William Kyle Carpenter, a Marine Corps veteran severely wounded during a November 2010 grenade attack in Afghanistan, will receive the nation's highest combat valor award later this year, Marine Corps Times has learned.
Carpenter, a 24-year-old medically retired corporal, will become the service's third Medal of Honor recipient from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which date back to October 2001. The Marine Corps is finalizing plans with the White House for a ceremony in Washington, officials said.
Marine Corps Times began making inquires about the status of Carpenter's case because the statute of limitations for Department of Navy Medal of Honor awards requires that a formal recommendation be made within three years of the combat action in question. Carpenter, the subject of two cover stories published by Marine Corps Times in 2012, also recently appeared in the national media. He was the subject of a January feature story in Reader's Digest and a related appearance Jan. 27 on Katie Couric's syndicated talk show.
Carpenter declined to comment on reports that he would soon receive the Medal of Honor.
A Marine Corps spokesman referred all comment to the White House. A White House spokesman said he had no scheduling announcements to make regarding the award. However, Medal of Honor presentations are typically announced only a month in advance.
Carpenter's Medal of Honor nomination stems from reports that, as a 21-year-old lance corporal, he intentionally covered a grenade to save the life of his friend, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio on Nov. 21, 2010, as the two Marines were standing guard on a rooftop in the Marjah district of Afghanistan's Helmand province. Both men survived the blast, but were badly wounded. Carpenter lost his right eye and most of his teeth, his jaw was shattered and his arm was broken in dozens of places.
Eufrazio sustained damage to the frontal lobe of his brain from shrapnel. Until recently, his wounds rendered him unable to speak.
The Marine Corps' investigation into events surrounding the grenade blast has been complicated by circumstances. First, no one witnessed what took place after that grenade was thrown. Second, Carpenter said he couldn't remember what happened due to trauma from the blast. Third, Eufrazio has been on a long and intensive road to recovery from his wounds. He only regained his ability to speak in late 2012, when his family reported that he was greeting hospital visitors by name.
Still, troops who served with Carpenter on the Marjah deployment say there's no doubt in their minds that he absorbed the grenade blast to save his comrade.
Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Kroll, Carpenter's platoon segreant, told Marine Corps Times that even though nobody knew for sure what happened, "our feeling has always been that Kyle shielded Nick from that blast."
Hospitalman 3rd Class Christopher Frend, who triaged the injuries of Carpenter and Eufrazio, said the injuries Carpenter sustained, and the evidence at the scene indicated that he had indeed covered the explosive. The blast seat of the grenade — the point of its detonation — was found under Carpenter's torso.
"Grenade blasts blow up; they don't blow down;" Frend told Marine Corps Times in 2012. "If he hadn't done it, what we found would have looked completely different."
While the Marine Corps continued its investigation, Carpenter attained a level of celebrity as a Marine hero. More than 13,000 people have followed his recovery and his projects following retirement via the Facebook page Operation Kyle.
In 2011, the state senate in Carpenter's native South Carolina honored him with a resolution that gave him credit for taking the grenade blast, saying he exemplified a hero. A photograph from the senate ceremony, showing Carpenter proud in his dress blues with shrapnel scars creating veins of silver across his face, went viral online.
Marine Corps Times has followed his progress, too, including a short feature on the Battle Rattle blog that featured video of Carpenter doing pullups, more than 30 surgeries after the 2010 blast.
Carpenter has maintained close ties with the Marine Corps and has been featured as a guest of honor at several command events. In November, he posted a photo on his Facebook page that shows him alongside Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett and Dakota Meyer, who in 2011 became the first Marine Medal of Honor recipient out of the war in Afghanistan. Meyer and Carpenter paid a joint visit to Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. the same month.
The Corps' only other post-9/11 Medal of Honor recipient, Cpl. Jason Dunham, was recognized posthumously for smothering a grenade in Iraq in 2004.