Carrying the Weight of the Medal of Honor

Scott A. Huesing
March 25, 2019 - 11:50 am
Scott Huesing and Medal of Honor Recipient Kyle Carpenter

Scott Huesing

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Recently I had the privilege of meeting the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient, Corporal William Kyle Carpenter, USMC (Ret). 

We stood amongst hundreds of people at a dinner, and I spoke with Kyle at the back of the ballroom – he told me he was writing a book of his own and I smiled. Not a book of grandiose acts of courage or bravery like he exhibited on the day that he was recognized, but of the spirit, and of the people that he was surrounded by – that was what was most important to him in telling his story - and I was proud of him.  

I was proud of what he’d done for his country – diving on an enemy grenade with his body to shield the blast and save the Marines around him.  But also, how honorably he’s represented the Marine Corps. As I stood there, I also realized the immense pressure and responsibility he had wearing the nation’s highest honor bestowed on its military members - the Medal of Honor. 

I asked Kyle how he felt about it all – he told me he was humbled. A true hallmark of a Marine - let alone a Marine that has been awarded our military’s highest honor at such a young age – he was 20-years-old at the time.  We talked about a recent interview I had conducted with another hero and friend – The oldest Medal of Honor recipient, Herschel “Woody” Williams.

Scott Huesing and Medal of Honor recipient, Herschel “Woody” Williams
Scott Huesing

 

I shared with Kyle the interesting questions I asked Woody and some of the behind the scenes actions of his day on Iwo Jima during WWII. It wasn’t Woody’s actions of picking up a flamethrower and annihilating bunkers filled with enemy Japanese soldiers, but the fact that Woody, as a young kid just like Kyle at the time, never knew what lay in store on those days. I’m quite sure both Kyle and Woody never thought that when they awoke those mornings, they would be recipients of the Medal of Honor – that their lives would be changed forever. 

Our conversation went on, and Kyle told me he’d never thought about that. We laughed about how Woody was still kicking gravity in the ass at age 95. Traveling constantly and sharing his amazing story. I reminded Kyle about Woody’s lifelong commitment to leadership. How he been telling the same story year after year. 

There was a pause, and Kyle looked astonished. 

I asked Kyle another question. “Where do you think you’ll be in 65 years?” 

I told Kyle that I often use the word, “Capacity.” Those who have the unique ability to share their stories, unlike others. This capacity is not common. They’re many like Kyle. Like Woody, who have experienced the worst of combat. The worst humanity has to offer - and they perform their duty not for medals, not for awards or recognition – but for their fellow Marines. 

They don’t wake up one morning thinking, “Today I’m going to perform this grandiose act and get an award.” But it happens. Kyle, like Woody, was a young Marine doing what all young Marines do – he followed orders and did his duty for his country – protecting his fellow Marines. 

I asked one more thing to Kyle, “Do you think you have the capacity to continue to lead like Woody? Do you have the capacity to influence three generations of Marines – three generations of Americans with your story?”  

Who has that in them? Who can tell the same story year after year after year? Not many I suppose. 

But it is people like Kyle and Woody and countless others that have been bestowed our nation’s highest awards, and others who have none, that we count on to share such marvelous stories to our young warriors that will follow in their footsteps. Stories not of legends. Not of icons - but of Marines. Ordinary people like Woody, from a dairy farm in West Virginia, or Kyle from a town in Mississippi. These are the people who will inspire multiple generations for years to come. 

Corporal Carpenter, exemplifies the best of our country and Corps. The epitome of sacrifice and devotion to something and someone other than himself.  Some of those in my generation and beyond take jabs at our Millennial’s – but I'll be the first to remind them that it is made up of incredible Marines like Kyle. 

As a commander who led Marines in combat, I witnessed incredible acts of courage. Many who received no awards, no recognition. I look to men like Kyle and Woody as unique people with an immense capacity that is emblematic of our entire warrior culture. 

Kyle’s and Woody’s stories are not singular but represent stories of many that will never be told. They wear their medals not for themselves – but for all of the Marines. All the soldiers. All of the families that sacrificed so much for our way of life.  They wear that weight around their neck for those whose stories have faded into the background, and they do it with remarkable pride and reverence. I’m proud to call both of them fellow Marines. I’m Proud to call them friends. Semper Fi.

 

Scott Huesing

Major Scott A. Huesing USMC (Ret) is the bestselling author of Echo in Ramadi – The Firsthand Story of U.S. Marines in Iraq’s Deadliest City. Foreword by Major General James Livingston, Medal of Honor Recipient, Vietnam.