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Medal of Honor Ceremony for Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon Hall of Heroes, Friday, June 20, 2014

Thank you. General Amos, thank you.  And to all of you here today, thank you.

I am grateful to be part of this afternoon’s recognition of a very special individual, that much of America heard about yesterday when President Obama … not only was part of reciting the official words which designated Kyle Carpenter as America’s newest entrant into a pretty select group of great Americans, the Medal of Honor Society … but President Obama talked about the different dimensions of Kyle Carpenter’s life; where he came from; how he was raised; the recognition of his parents, who are with us today; his two brothers; his mother and his father, relatives, friends, and as General Amos noted, those who served with Kyle as well as Marines from all over.  And I know—as the Commandant has told me as well as the Sergeant Major—you can never have too many Marines in a room…  And I say that as a former Army infantryman, an unworthy former Army infantryman…

It is a recognition, as General Amos said and the President said yesterday, of who we are.  And what Kyle Carpenter did, what he represents, what he embodies, and what he reflects about our society, about what’s good in our society, the quality of our people, and the strong beliefs our people have in each other… that act of heroism by Kyle Carpenter was a pretty clear sampling of who we are as Americans.  It doesn't mean that we’re better than anybody else.  It does mean that we have a unique way of taking care of each other, and I think what Kyle Carpenter was recognized for yesterday and what he’s recognized for here today at the Pentagon is about that as [much as] it is about this pretty unique man.

As General Amos noted, the Medal of Honor was established 153 years ago, and I wanted to just remind everyone here the specifics of what it takes—the criteria—to be awarded this.  For a Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor,  

  • the deed must be proved by incontestable evidence of at least two eyewitnesses;
  • it must be so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes the recipient's gallantry beyond the call of duty from lesser forms of bravery;
  • it must involve the risk of one’s life; and
  • it must be the type of deed which, if the honoree had not done it, would not subject him or her to any justified criticism. 

 

And as General Amos noted, there aren’t many Medal of Honor winners still with us today in our world.  But this man is one of the unique people who will continue to shape and influence and impact our society for many years to come.  I think as we think through all of this, and I know his parents, his brothers, and his relatives, his grandmother, as they have heard so much about their son the last few days, and as they will go back home tomorrow, and as Mrs. Carpenter said, get right back to cleaning the house and cooking meals, and doing what most people do—they have been changed too.  In many ways—in most ways—they didn’t hear anything new, that they didn’t already know about their son, but they let all of us hear more about that story, about this special story, of their son.

I also want to recognize and note… although he couldn’t be with us here in Washington, Corporal Nick Eufrazio, Kyle’s best friend in the Marines, whose life Kyle literally saved, a wounded warrior who is recovering from his own wounds.  We want to acknowledge Nick and his family for his service and the service and sacrifice that his family has made, and to all the Marines who served with you, Kyle, during the battle, and every day that our Marines serve our country.

Yesterday, as I noted, when President Obama read the citation, he told the story of what happened on November 21st, 2010, at Patrol Base Dakota in Afghanistan.  He laid out the specifics, but the weight of what was on these Marines that day… I want in particular to read an excerpt, with his permission, from the diary of Sergeant Jared Lilly…and Hospital Corpsman Chris Frend, who were with him, and who helped both of these brave, brave [Marines], Nick and Kyle, get on the helicopter that day… what Sergeant Lilly wrote in his journal the week after Kyle was wounded…

 “It’s been 7 days now since the worst day of my life….when all hell broke loose….The sight was horrific….He lay there lifeless as I put tourniquets on his arms….[When] Carp resumed consciousness …he asked if he was going to die.  I told him no, he was too strong for that…. I almost broke down several times but I couldn’t let my friend down….It seemed like an eternity before the medevac arrived.  We put Kyle on the stretcher and had to put [Nick] on a poncho liner.  We carried them to the LZ [Landing Zone] and used our bodies to cover them from the dirt and dust the helo kicked up.  As we loaded him on the bird, I yelled that I love him.  I was a zombie walking back in…and sat down and the tears broke free.  I began to yell about how we did it all wrong....I felt helpless....[and] [a]ll I could do was pray.”

In speaking about his service, his injury, and his recovery, Kyle has said, “the light is on me right now, but I’m hoping what happened to me will help remind people that things like this happen every day, and people don’t see it.”

Well, Kyle’s work and dedication have helped him with all that.  And he’s helped make an awareness of what happens in war very real.  His recent marathon, his “Tough Mudder,” and his parachute-jumping remind us of the resilience of the more than 52,000 American service members wounded in our nation’s wars since 9/11.  The devotion of Kyle’s family to his recovery – his mother Robin trudging through the snow—that’s unusual for South Carolina girls—trudging through the snow across a base to get a vanilla milkshake, when that was the only thing Kyle could taste…this devotion reminds us of the service and sacrifice of all our military families.  And the skill and dedication of Kyle’s military medical team – some of whom are here today – some of whom were introduced by the President yesterday at the White House, I want to add my thanks on behalf of the country and all the Department of Defense for what you did for Kyle.  And Kyle has acknowledged and recognized you many times, as he has said, for putting him back together pretty well.  Thank you.

And they described a number of times the joy they all felt when Kyle made that first lap around the hospital ward…and it does again remind us of the extraordinary talent and support of all our people, in particular, our medical services and our medical providers, and how they continue to marshal their passion and their feeling about all of us, and how they heal and help us heal the tragic wounds of war.   

In the new life that Kyle is building after all of this, after his military service, we see the enormous potential of a new generation of veterans, many of whom are in this room today.  Last fall, in his first semester at the University of South Carolina, Kyle earned a 3.9 grade-point average.  Now, I could say that, for a Marine, that’s unusual…but, it’s a joke…I’m nervous saying something like that with the Sergeant Major here… In pursuing higher education and advanced job training, Kyle is joined by more than 1 million veterans, service members, and their families who have taken advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill – a new, great generation that, as President Truman said of a previous one, “will do in peacetime for this great nation what they did for it in wartime.”

But just as we honor Kyle’s valor and sacrifice, we also remember the fallen.  We remember those we lost from this war, and in particular, we remember those lost from Kyle’s platoon: Lance Corporal Timothy Jackson and Lance Corporal Dakota Huse.  We remember the 453 Marines and all the 2,326 American service members who have given their lives in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom.

We also honor the service and sacrifice of all our troops returning home: as they heal their wounds, as they build new lives for themselves and their families in and beyond military service.   

The poet Carl Sandburg once said, “Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure if they have it ‘til the test comes.” 

Today, by inscribing Kyle’s name in this hall of heroes, we honor that gift. 

We honor all who serve.                                                             

We honor the Marine Corps. 

We honor all…Marines.

We honor Kyle’s family.  

And we honor a hero, William Kyle Carpenter.    

Thank you.

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