COLUMBIA, S.C.— A Marine who threw himself on a grenade during a Taliban attack in Afghanistan to save a comrade's life will receive the Medal of Honor Thursday from President Obama.
Retired Marine corporal William Kyle Carpenter, 24, sustained major injuries, including the loss of his right eye. After a long recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he's now attending the University of South Carolina.
WLTX-TV spoke with Carpenter about the moments after the attack in 2010 and what it's like to be recognized for his sacrifice. Here is an edited version of the conversation:
QUESTION: Did you ever think you'd earn the Medal of Honor?
Carpenter: I didn't at all. Now that everything is happening, it definitely surreal and kind of weird.
Carpenter: I wouldn't say nervous. I would say a little anxious because I know the responsibility this medal carries and all the military members and people of this nation I am going to wear it for and represent. It's a lot. I'm thankful and very honored, but it's definitely a double-edged sword.
We go over there and courageous and heroic acts happen every day. And we in the military raise our right hand and agree to give up our life to serve the country. It's all positive and great things, but it weighs on me.
QUESTION: What's it like when the president calls your phone?
Carpenter: He was nice. It was a quick conversation. I got out of class and headed straight home. I wanted to share that moment with my family. It was surreal. I hung up the phone and headed back to class.
From Nov. 28, 2010, there hasn't been a day that's gone by where we haven't felt that love and support. So, mentally I've been great and still doing great.
QUESTION: After the attack, you thought it was over?
Carpenter: Absolutely. In the few seconds I had, I kind of understood what was happening, what was going on and that I had been severely injured. From how I felt and how quickly I was fading and the amount of blood I could feel coming out, I absolutely knew that I was not waking up.
I guess you could say I got right with the man upstairs. I wanted to go to heaven. I knew it was over so, my family, that quick prayer, and I got really tired and just felt like I wanted to take a nap and I woke up six weeks later at Bethesda, (Md.).
QUESTION: Can you put into words the level of difficulty it was to get through all of that?
Carpenter: At first and throughout my over two and a half years in the hospital, I will say the surgeries got old. It was almost like is this ever going to end? I don't have one complaint (from Walter Reed). It's an incredible place to recover
Carpenter: I will say no. And not in any way patting myself on the back. As Marines the only people we have, and that we deploy with, and that we live and die beside, is each other. I know if 1,000 Marines were put in the same situation I was in, they would do the same thing for me.
QUESTION: You'd like to go back to Afghanistan. Why?
Carpenter: Why? Well, hopefully to see and support and visit with the troops that are still over there. And maybe just go back for that closure. I think I would like to go back just to kind of take a deep breath and think about it and leave for that last time. Hopefully one day it'll happen.
QUESTION: You mentioned that it's frustrating that you don't have a consistent memory of everything that happened. Do you try to remember more?
Carpenter: Not really. It's been years since the incident. But I'm okay with not remembering and I think it's for the best. I'm just really thankful to be alive. I don't focus too much on it. Maybe I did at first, but not anymore. I'm just kind of looking ahead.