In 2010, William Kyle Carpenter was fighting in Afghanistan when a grenade was thrown next to him and a fellow Marine. Without hesitation, Carpenter jumped on the grenade to shield his friend and saved his life. However, Carpenter had little chance of his survival. The Marine lance corporal’s body was shattered, one lung collapsed, and the blast took off his eye and most of his jaw.
But he miraculously survived and won the Medal of Honor in 2014, the nation’s highest military award. As a Marine, Carpenter was ready to sacrifice himself for peace, but this moment of selflessness speaks volumes about his character. But he also deserves recognition for what he achieved after the event.
The Youngest Recipient of the Medal of Honor
On November 21, 2010, Carpenter and another Marine, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio were positioned on a rooftop with machine guns during a firefight with Taliban insurgents. That’s when a hand grenade flew to them. Carpenter rushed toward it and took most of the hit, although Eufrazio also suffered injuries. A helicopter came to collect them, and Carpenter was declared dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. He was revived but seemed to die again at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Carpenter spent two and half years in the hospital after the grenade attack, his body slowly recovering piece by piece. Despite all of the pain and uncertainty, he maintained a perspective of positivity and gratitude. “I look back and I’m actually very appreciative I had those two and a half years, because those years put things in perspective more than a whole lifetime of things could if I wasn’t there,” Carpenter said in 2014.
That year, he became the eighth living veteran from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq to receive the Medal of Honor. President Barack Obama presented him with the award at a ceremony at the White House. He is also the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor, currently 33 years of age. But that is only one of his many accomplishments.
After being on the verge of death three times, he underwent over 40 surgeries to reconstruct his face and body. Part of his post-recovery involved living to the fullest. He has run marathons, sky-dived, received a degree in international studies at the University of South Carolina, and traveled around the United States to promote his book “You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For.”
Life and Trauma After Being a Marine
The book talks about his experiences leading up to his Medal of Honor, his gratitude for those who aided his recovery, and his inspiration for others to make the most of their lives. He has also raised money for the Fisher House Foundation, which helps provide housing for veterans and families who receive hospital treatments.
One notable section of his book discusses how he suffered from nightmares and hallucinations while on pain medication. His pain and injuries were so intense he couldn’t even eat a bowl of cereal. “Through sobs, I managed to choke out one devastating question: ‘Look at me. Who is ever going to love me again?’ ” Carpenter recalled. It’s a heartbreaking story for a veteran who is known for his enduring optimism and determination. 
In a 2019 interview, Carpenter relates that the Marine he saved, Nicholas Eufrazio, is close friend today. However, he adds that are many others who give “such crazy sacrifices for their country” who deserve recognition. Many of them don’t have physical scars like Carpenter. “So many, Nick included, that have traumatic brain injuries. The brain is a beautiful and delicate thing. I encourage people to know that there is trauma, there are people with mental and emotional scars that weigh as heavy as, if not heavier than, the physical scars. If I could not be here and Nick would not have a traumatic brain injury, I would make that trade in a heartbeat. But I have a platform to tell people about traumatic brain injury and encourage them to be not sympathetic, but empathetic.”
“The Grandest of Journeys”
Carpenter is a loud advocate for mental health treatment for veterans and their families with his work with the Headstrong Project, which offers “confidential, barrier-free and stigma-free evidence-based trauma-focused treatment.” He joined the Headstrong board of directors in mid-2021. Conditions like PTSD, depression, insomnia and substance addiction are extremely common among veterans. As of now, the organization treats an average of 1,400 clients a month through 275 clinicians in the U.S.
In 2022, Carpenter spoke as the guest of honor at the San Diego Marines Foundation’s Marine Corps birthday celebration. “Our service and the legacy we helped build and maintain will never fade and will never waiver and just like our enduring legacy, so is our responsibility,” Carpenter said. “…I have learned that any worthy victory can only be achieved through hard work, sacrifice and optimism. And lastly, I learned that the smallest of steps completed the grandest of journeys.”
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