Retired Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, the nation's most recent Medal of Honor recipient, is going through all the emotions of becoming an almost overnight celebrity.
"Just being a student last year and being out of the military and not really having any of that recognition and then kind of going from zero to a hundred overnight and having that, it's definitely, I guess, a day-by-day adjustment to get used to," Carpenter said. "It's not that I don't wish it. It's just a little bit to deal with."
Carpenter was born in Mississippi but raised in Gilbert, South Carolina.
He enlisted with the Marine Corps in 2009 and completed basic training at Parris Island later that year.
In late 2010, then-L. Cpl. Carpenter was stationed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
On Nov. 21, 2010, Carpenter woke up to the sound of an automatic rifle.
"That was not an uncommon alarm clock for us," Carpenter said. "I don't remember the moments leading up to it. I don't really remember anything of that entire day. All I remember is physically how my body felt after I was hit by the grenade."
The Marine Corps says the compound was taking fire.
When members of the Taliban threw a grenade onto the roof near Carpenter and a friend and fellow Marine, the young Marine didn't hesitate.
"When the grenade landed, other Marines in the compound looked up and saw it happen," President Barack Obama said during Carpenter's Medal of Honor ceremony. "Kyle tried to stand. He lunged forward toward that grenade, and then he disappeared into the blast."
It was that act of heroism that earned Carpenter the Medal of Honor.
"Well, the calls started months before not so official, and then we kind of led up to that point of getting a call from the President," Carpenter said. "So, the exact day and the exact minute that he would call I had a head's up. Got out of class, went home, sat in my living room with my parents. We checked my brothers out of school, so we could all be there together for that moment. The call came. We spoke briefly. It was the President, and we hung up, and I went back to class."
Carpenter said he tried not to think about going to the White House before.
"I didn't want to get worked up or think one things and things happen another," Carpenter said. "I just wanted to go into it relaxed. I did that, and I had a lot of great people around me that not only looked after me and took care of me but all the people that I wanted there and that I invited. The White House was special. The ceremony was very special, but really the best part of my week was just having all those people that made an impact and helped me get to where I am over these past few years. It was just really great seeing all of them together and in the same room."
But the White House was just the beginning. The nation's new role model had a busy, cross-country tour afterwards.
"I didn't know how it was going to go, but I threw the pitch out at the San Diego Padres game… I spoke to three military Marine Corps bases in Southern California," Carpenter said. "Went to New York. Got to be on the floor of the Stock Exchange one morning and see the bell ring and the day of trading kick off. Went to a Broadway show, Rocky, and after, I got to meet the fighters and the cast of that, so that was a great experience. Hung out with the USO people in New York. David Letterman. After, I went around Camp Lejeune and spoke to my old unit, which was 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, and that was awesome. Kind of the place where it all started, and five years later I'm back there speaking with Marines there."
Now, Carpenter is back in Columbia. And after lots of naps, he's gearing up for his sophomore year at University of South Carolina.
"Well, I haven't officially declared it, but I've put a lot of thought into it, and I think going into this sophomore year, I would like to declare my major as psychology," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said whatever he does, he wants to continue helping people.
All the while using the fame that he's still getting used, he's wants to bring recognition to the Marine Corps and the thousands of men and women who are still overseas.
"I got presented with a unique situation, getting a hand grenade thrown at me, but just going back to that first day, we all raised our right hand to give up to the same amount to the military, to our country, to this nation and its people," Carpenter said.
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