By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama presented retired Marine William "Kyle" Carpenter the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. award for gallantry, on Thursday for covering a grenade with his body and saving a comrade's life.
Carpenter, 24, of Gilbert, South Carolina, should not be alive today after diving onto an insurgent grenade in Afghanistan packed with TNT, Obama told a White House ceremony.
Carpenter "displayed a heroism in the blink of an eye that will inspire for generations, valor worthy of our nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor," he said.
Carpenter and fellow Lance Corporal Nicholas Eufrazio, of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, were manning a sandbagged rooftop post in Helmand Province, in southern Afghanistan, on Nov. 21, 2010, when insurgents attacked the site.
A grenade landed in the post, and Carpenter threw himself on it, absorbing the brunt of the blast. His gear melted, his body armor was blown off, and he went into cardiac arrest three times, Obama said.
Carpenter lost most of his jaw and an eye, his arm was fractured in more than 30 places and he was in a coma for five weeks. He underwent almost 40 surgeries and was medically retired last year.
Eufrazio sustained serious brain injuries and could not speak for more than a year. He is still recovering and lives at home with his family in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Obama said.
The president praised Debra Malone and Lauren Greer, the doctors who oversaw Carpenter's recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, and had them stand to applause.
Because the fortified position blocked a direct line of sight, no Marine saw Carpenter on the grenade. But a corpsman’s assessment and a post-blast analysis concluded that Carpenter had put himself on top of the explosive.
Carpenter is the eighth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Despite his wounds, Carpenter skies, snowboards and has parachuted from a plane. A student at the University of South Carolina, he has become a motivational speaker and has completed a Marine Corps Marathon, Obama said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)