U.S. Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter looked at his exhibit at the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center on Monday, but he doesn't have the same sense of awe others do.
A real-life hero — and the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient — Carpenter said he doesn't feel "any different" when asked whether he felt like a hero, even though his act of bravery and sacrifice in November 2010 in Afghanistan clearly put him in a different class.
Carpenter will be the keynote speaker at Tuesday's fifth annual Celebration of Valor luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
It will be the first such luncheon without Charles Coolidge, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, our country's highest personal military honor for valor, for action in World War II and for whom the Heritage Center is named.
Luncheon guests will be treated to a video tribute to Coolidge, who died in April at age 99.
Carpenter was presented with the medal by then-President Barack Obama in 2014.
At Tuesday's event, he will share his message of post-service life:
"The human spirit is powerful," he said Monday afternoon. "Life is worth everything — it's all we got."
Carpenter is lucky to have his. He was serving in Afghanistan, part of a group taking a rooftop security position when the enemy launched a daytime attack. Carpenter does not remember the attack, but the stories of his fellow Marines and drone footage told the story.
This is how it's described in the exhibit (one of 17 exhibits at the center): "When the grenade landed, other Marines in the compound looked up and saw it happen. Kyle tried to stand up. He lunged toward the grenade and then disappeared into the blast. Keep in mind, at the time Carpenter was 21, but in that instance he fulfilled that classic word of scripture: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'"
In a split second, Carpenter chose to save the life of a fellow Marine.
"No one can say they would do that or are prepared to do that. It's not something any of us would think to do," he said. "Absolutely not," he said when asked if he went to war prepared to jump on a grenade. "But what I will say is that it's the beauty of the human spirit."
He spent three years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and endured 60-plus surgeries.
The perspectives of the human spirit have changed all around Carpenter since his act of bravery in November 2010. Carpenter did not want to discuss politics, and when asked about the United States' 20-year war presence in Afghanistan and the fallout from U.S. troop withdrawal, he chose his words carefully.
"I am thankful and proud that we gave our very best effort and then some," he said after about two minutes of quiet. "I know that either for a brief moment in time or for 20 years, helping our fellow human beings will be worth the sacrifice.
"I hope that we showed them what freedom tastes like and that tomorrow's sunrise can be better than the day before's."
Carpenter has much to look forward to: Next month, he will celebrate his 32nd birthday, and he will marry Brittany Vaughn of Soddy-Daisy.
And I do know this: As long as we have heroes like Kyle Carpenter, all of our sunrises have the promise of better days.
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.