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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -
In a ceremony worthy for the man who Marine Corps colleagues say jumped on a live grenade to shield a friend during combat in Afghanistan, Retired Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter was awarded the Medal of Honor on Thursday by President Barack Obama.
Shortly after the president delivered remarks on the ongoing crisis in Iraq, Obama personally presented Carpenter with the nation's highest military honor.
"The man you see before you today, Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter, should not be alive today," said Obama to the crowd filled with dignitaries, lawmakers, and Carpenter's family.
Carpenter, 24, received the honor for his bravery during Operation Enduring Freedom in November 2010 and becomes the honor's eighth living recipient.
In the specific incident, Carpenter and his Marine unit were on patrol in the Helmland Province of Afghanistan when a grenade landed nearby.
"We are here today because this man faced down this terrible explosive power, that unforgiving force, with his own body, willingly and deliberately to protect a fellow Marine," said Obama.
Carpenter had very little time to think, but the one thought that crossed his mind was his friend, fellow Marine Cpl. Nick Eufrazio. According to military reports and other Marines who were on the patrol, Carpenter fell forward toward the blast, shielding Eufrazio and others from the explosion.
"His injuries were called 'catastrophic'. It seemed as if he was going to die. While being treated, he went into cardiac arrest and flat lined three times. And three times, doctors brought him back," said Obama. "Along with his parents, who call Kyle's survival 'our miracle,' we thank God they did."
The Marine, according to members of his unit, was enveloped by the blast. When the dust settled, Carpenter's severely injured body was just feet away from where the grenade landed.
"They found Kyle lying face down, directly over the blast area," said Obama. "His helmet was riddled with holes. His gear was melted. Part of his Kevlar vest was blown away. One of the doctors who treated him later said Kyle was 'literally wounded from the top of his head to his feet.'
"And for a moment, Kyle was still conscious. His eyes were open but he couldn't see. Kyle remember "everything went white." And yet, even then, his thoughts were not of himself. One of the Marines who was there remembers how Kyle kept asking one question, and that was whether Nick was okay."
Carpenter lost his right eye and most of his teeth in the blast. His jaw was also shattered and his arm was broken in dozens of places.
That's where the doctors at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, MD came in and almost had to quite literally put Carpenter back together.
Forty something surgeries later to repair his scarred face and shattered bones, Carpenter is mostly independent now and attending the University of South Carolina.
"If any of our wounded warriors seek an example -- let me amend that -- if any American seeks a model of the strength and resilience that define us as a people, including this newest 9/11 generation, I want you to consider Kyle," said Obama.