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June 20, 2014

TOM SILEO: Medal recipient keeps on giving

When I asked Cpl. Kyle Carpenter how possibly receiving the Medal of Honor might change his life, the young Marine responded the same way he did during a hellish battle in Afghanistan. He thought of others before himself.

“I will never stop helping people that need to be helped or trying to make a positive impact on people's lives,” Cpl. Carpenter told me in March 2013.

Sure enough, after the 24-year-old wounded Afghanistan veteran learned that he would receive the nation's highest military honor in a June 19 White House ceremony, Kyle put his selfless plan into action.

“Be kind and help others,” the Medal of Honor recipient wrote during a June 16 chat session on an official U.S. Marine Corps Facebook page.

On Nov. 21, 2010, an enemy grenade landed next to Kyle and a fellow Marine in Marjah, Afghanistan.

“The grenade went off, and I woke up a month later,” the Gilbert, S.C., Marine told me. “The next thing I really remember is seeing Christmas stockings on the wall.”

Fellow squad members later told Kyle, who lost his right eye in the horrific explosion, that he jumped on the grenade to shield his brother in arms.

“Everything is a blur because of the medication,” Kyle said last spring. “It really was about a year before I started to have fluid memories.”

Even though Kyle had to endure frequent operations on his eye socket and jaw, adjust to wearing artificial teeth, and come to grips with the loss of half his vision, he never complained.

“The best thing that's come out of it is the impact I've had on other people,” the brave Marine said.

What Kyle told me about serving in treacherous southern Afghanistan during one of the most violent periods in America's longest war has resonated since.

“I didn't have a shower for three months,” he said.

“It wasn't a matter of 'I wonder if we're going to get shot at today?'” Kyle later added. “It was a matter of 'when was it going to start?'”

In the weeks leading up to the battle that almost killed him, the young Marine was dealing with some of the most challenging conditions known to man.

“Just imagine what it's like walking through mud and it being hard to lift your feet out, even if you don't have anything on your back,” Kyle explained last year. “On most of my patrols, I would carry 800 rounds on my back – a lot of weight – and the weather is well over 100 degrees.”

While summers are hot in Columbia, S.C., carrying a backpack around the University of South Carolina, where Kyle is now a student, is a much easier task.

“I love college and, surprisingly, I don't get asked a lot about my service,” Kyle wrote on June 16. “All the students at the University of South Carolina are very respectful and understand that I'm just there to get an education just like them.”

When Kyle returns to campus in the fall, he will undoubtedly be the only student to have received a Medal of Honor at the White House.

“I haven't nailed down a major yet, but I took a psychology class and really enjoyed it,” Kyle wrote during the chat.

When President Obama called Kyle's cellphone to offer his congratulations, the nation's newest Medal of Honor recipient was thinking of his fellow Marines.

“I was very honored,” Kyle wrote. “But I receive (the Medal) with a heavy heart knowing that many didn't make it back.”

Regardless of which political party controls Washington, young warriors like Kyle are still stepping forward to serve.

“My time in Afghanistan was the most cherished part about being in the Corps because of my experiences and what it taught me – to appreciate what we have here in the U.S. and all the opportunities we have,” he wrote.

Instead of worrying about what is trending on Twitter or the latest depressing story to dominate the news cycle, let's all take a deep breath and thank the stars on our great country's flag for heroes like Cpl. Kyle Carpenter.

“Living and enjoying life inspires me today,” the Medal of Honor recipient wrote.

Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice."

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