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Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter celebrated at White House as modern miracle

Marine Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter cracks a smile at the White House on Thursday, moments before receiving the Medal of Honor from President Obama. Carpenter received the award for “conspicuous gallantry” performed while serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan. REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor on Thursday to Marine Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, celebrating the veteran’s heroism and the modern medical miracle it took to keep him alive after he was rocked with a grenade blast while attempting to shield a fellow Marine from harm.

Carpenter, 24, received the award in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, flanked by his family and dozens of Marines from his unit. He is credited with deliberately lunging at a hand grenade after an insurgent tossed it at him and another Marine, Lance Cpl. Nick Eufrazio, while they manned a rooftop security post in a small, dusty compound in Marjah, Afghanistan.

Carpenter still bears the scars of that Nov. 21, 2010, incident, but has made a remarkable recovery. He has run a marathon, sky-dived and completed a mud-run competition since being injured, the president noted, and pushed through physical therapy and surgeries to retire medically and attend the University of South Carolina.

“You’ll notice that Kyle doesn’t hide his scars. He’s proud of them and the service they represent,” Obama said. In a lighter moment, he added: “And, now, he tells me this, and I’m just quoting him: He says the girls like it. So he’s working an angle on this thing. I wasn’t sure I was supposed to stay that in front of Mom.”

The fact that Carpenter was able to laugh in response is a testament to modern medicine and quick work by both his doctors and his fellow service members. Carpenter’s vital signs flat-lined numerous times after he was injured, Obama recalled, but the Marine was resuscitated each time.

“I want you to consider what Kyle has endured just to stand here today: More than two and a half years in the hospital; grueling rehabilitation; brain surgery to remove shrapnel from his head; nearly 40 surgeries to repair a collapsed lung, fractured fingers, a shattered arm broken in more than 30 places; multiple skin grafts,” Obama said. “He has a new prosthetic eye, new teeth, and one hell of a smile.”

The president recognized two doctors — Debra Malone and Lauren Greer — and other medical staff at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., who have been instrumental in healing Carpenter.

“Today is also a reminder that in past wars, somebody with injuries as severe as Kyle’s probably wouldn’t have survived,” Obama said. “So many of our wounded warriors from today’s wars are alive not just because of remarkable advances in technology, but primarily because of the extraordinary dedication and skill of our military and VA medical professionals.”

Obama acknowledged the 2010 death of two of Carpenter’s friends and fellow Marines, Lance Cpl. Dakota Huse and Lance Cpl. Timothy Jackson, during the ceremony. He added that Eufrazio is still recovering from injuries he sustained with the blast, and was watching the ceremony with his family in Plymouth, Mass.

Carpenter is the second living Marine to receive the nation’s highest award for valor in combat since the Vietnam War. Fourteen other U.S. service members have received it for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

After the ceremony, Carpenter told media at the White House that he was honored and humbled to accept the Medal of Honor, but was doing so “with a heavy heart.”

“As the president put the medal around my neck, I felt the history and the weight of a nation,” he said, recalling Marines who fought everywhere from the trenches of World War I, to the icy battlefields of Korea, to cities in Iraq like Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah.

“I think about the Marines who were with me in Marjah,” he continued. “If I close my eyes today, I can still hear their desperate medevacs being called out over the radio as they bled out in the fields of Afghanistan. Today, I accept the medal for them. I will wear it for every person who makes up our great nation.”