On Thursday, retired Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter will become the eighth living recipient to receive the Medal Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama will present Carpenter with the medal in a ceremony Thursday in the East Room of the White House. The Medal of Honor is the highest U.S. military distinction, awarded to military personnel for valor far and beyond the call of duty during combat.
"I don't think I'd ever thought about what I would do in that situation," Carpenter told Billy Watkins with The Clarion-Ledger over the phone. "I don't think there is any way to know until you're faced with it. But I did what I was trained to do, and that is to protect my fellow Marines at all costs."
On Nov. 21, 2010, in the Marjah district of Afghanistan, the then 21-year-old made the split-second decision to cover an enemy-launched grenade with his body to shield his fellow Marines.
"I felt like warm water was being poured all over me from the blood coming out," Carpenter told USA TODAY.
The marine's injuries were extensive: he lost his right eye; the grenade blew his right jaw off, destroying much of his teeth; his right arm was so badly shattered doctors weren't sure they could save it; his right lung had collapsed; shrapnel had torn into other parts of his body.
Carpenter said he doesn't remember the moments leading up to the attack, but recalls the seconds after the blast.
As he was fading from consciousness, his thoughts turned to his parents and home.
"I thought of my family," Carpenter told USA TODAY. "It upset me because I thought how devastated and upset they would be that I didn't make it out of Afghanistan alive, and they didn't get to see me again."
Carpenter spent two and a half years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he underwent endless surgeries and procedures. He said he has fully recovered. Last year, he even ran a marathon and tried sport parachuting.
"I really made it a point to not look back," Carpenter said of his recovery.
Carpenter is medically retired from the Marine Corps and is enrolled as a student at the University of South Carolina, where he is considering majoring in psychology.
He told USA TODAY that he wouldn't take back the time he served in Afghanistan.
"The best time of being a Marine was Afghanistan," he said. "There will never be a time when I'm sleeping in the dirt and I haven't showered in four months and I'm with 50 of the people that I'll be the closest with ever."