WASHINGTON — In the seconds after the blast, Marine Lance Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter recalled a loud ringing in his ears and an unshakable belief that he was going to die.
"I felt like warm water was being poured all over me from the blood coming out," said Carpenter, a Lexington, SC native.
The Marine heard his buddies in Afghanistan calling out to him. They were close but sounded a football field away. "You're going to make it," the men shouted.
"I just kept trying to tell them that I was going to die," Carpenter said. "I wasn't going to make it." Then he blacked out.
Carpenter, now 24, will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for bravery, for intentionally placing himself between a grenade and a fellow Marine, shielding him from the blast and saving his life, the White House announced Monday.The ceremony is scheduled for June 19.
In November 2010 Carpenter's unit, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines was operating around Marjah, a network of canals, mud-walled villages and fields, which had been a Taliban stronghold in the heart of Afghanistan's poppy growing region.
Carpenter's squad was ordered south to set up a patrol base in an area that was thick with Taliban insurgents as Marines worked to expand security in the region.
On the first morning in the tiny village, the small patrol came under intense Taliban attack, according to a Marine Corps account of Carpenter's actions. Insurgents fired assault rifles, grenades and rockets at the patrol base. Two Marines were evacuated with injuries.
The following day, Nov. 21, 2010, Carpenter, then 21, and Lance Cpl. Nick Eufrazio set up an observation post on the roof of a building that was serving as the patrol's command center.
By 9 a.m. the Marines were again receiving small-arms fire from insurgents who had used vegetation and buildings to maneuver close to the patrol base.
There was little concealment for the Marines up there, other than a low wall of sandbags that Marines had placed in a circle on the roof.
Carpenter and Eufrazio were forced to lie on their backs to avoid getting shot as they attempted to get a fix on the insurgent positions.
By 10 a.m. insurgents had crept close to the base, tossing three grenades into the compound, one of which landed on the roof of the observation post manned by Carpenter and Eufrazio.
Carpenter immediately positioned himself between the grenade and Eufrazio, taking the brunt of the explosion. Eufrazio is still recovering from wounds received that day.
Carpenter's own injuries were extensive. He lost his right eye, both ear drums were blown, most of his teeth were lost and his right arm was so badly shattered doctors were not sure they could save it. In addition, much of his jaw was missing, his right lung had collapsed and shrapnel had torn into other parts of his body.
Although he doesn't remember the moments leading up to the attack he says his impulse to shield his colleague likely came from the deep kinship Marines feel for each other in combat and the training that taught the importance of "taking care of junior Marines before yourself," Carpenter said.
"I loved him like a brother," he said of Eufrazio.
Carpenter said it has been frustrated that he hasn't been able to piece together the moments before the attack, but he recalls the seconds after the blast.
As he was fading from consciousness his thoughts turned to his parents and home.
"I thought of my family," Carpenter said. "It upset me because I thought how devastated and upset they would be that I didn't make it out of Afghanistan alive and they didn't get to see me again.
"The last thought I had was I made peace with God," he recalled.
"I guess I was trying to make the best and the most out of my last few seconds here on Earth," he said.
Carpenter spent 2½ years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he underwent endless surgeries and procedures. He said he has fully recovered. Last year he ran a marathon and he has tried sport parachuting.
"I really made it a point to not look back," Carpenter said of his recovery.
His spirits were lifted each morning at Walter Reed when he went to the cafeteria for breakfast and saw soldiers and Marines in wheelchairs and on crutches, high-fiving and hugging each other.
"Those 2½ years put things in perspective for me more than an whole lifetime of things," Carpenter said.
Soft-spoken and articulate, Carpenter is medically retired from the Marine Corps and is enrolled as a student at the University of South Carolina, where he is considering majoring in psychology.
Carpenter said he loved being a Marine and the close bonds that are formed in battle.
"The best time of being a Marine was Afghanistan," he said. "There will never be a time when I'm sleeping in the dirt and I haven't showered in four months and I'm with 50 of the people that I'll be the closest with ever.
"I guess if I look at it that way I'm very thankful for Afghanistan," he said. "It really means a lot to me and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."