A recipient of the Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor, Kyle Carpenter is best known for the act of “conspicuous gallantry” he performed on November 21, 2010 in a newly established Marine patrol base in Marjah District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. When a grenade was lobbed onto the rooftop where Lance Corporal Carpenter was on post, he threw his body over the device to shield friend and fellow Marine Lance Corporal Nick Eufrazio from the blast.
Although Carpenter’s heavily scarred body is a visible testament to his heroism, he wants to ensure his legacy is not limited to the selfless action he cannot recall. In Carpenter’s memoir, You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For, coauthored by Don Yaeger and released on October 15, Carpenter lays bare his entire past, offering readers insight on the lessons that helped him through a lengthy and difficult recovery, and touting the importance of heroically using our lives to help our fellow man.
There are tremendous lessons to be gleaned from each section of You Are Worth It, which is laid out roughly chronologically. The chapters detailing Carpenter’s upbringing in a home with loving family and tremendous mentors demonstrate the impact servant leaders and thoughtful custodians can make on the world by shaping the characters of the children in their care.
While discussing his difficult decision to join the Marine Corps and his early experiences as an infantryman, Carpenter underscores the importance of America’s fighting forces across the world. His excellent description of his time in Marjah with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment is a compelling firsthand account of experiences shared by many participants in the Afghanistan surge.
His early observations are astute and incisive, but Carpenter’s most life-changing lessons arrive in the chapters devoted to his recovery process. Although he has no recollection of leaping on the grenade that nearly took his life, Carpenter has woven together multiple accounts to recreate the moments following the blast.
He pulls no punches when describing its devastating effects on his small frame, which included a collapsed lung, burst eardrums, injuries to both eyes, 30 fractures to his right arm, a severed jaw, broken teeth, and heavy shrapnel injuries to his brain, arteries, and face. To those who wonder how he survived such extensive wounds, Carpenter has a simple explanation: miracles, of timing, fortunate accidents, and incredible circumstances.
Other people were instrumental in Carpenter’s miracle, particularly during the first five weeks after the explosion, when he remained in a coma. Although he does not remember their ministrations, Carpenter notes the superhuman efforts and kind, caring acts of corpsmen, fellow Marines, pilots, medics, security personnel, chaplains, nurses, doctors, therapists, family, and civilian supporters who preserved his life, even when his heart stopped twice.
Carpenter lost his right eye and underwent several dozen surgeries in the course of his nearly three-year recovery. His description of the devastating setbacks and successes that marked this period of his life is sure to elicit an emotional response in many readers.
After a medical retirement from the Marine Corps and departure from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in summer 2013, Carpenter writes briefly about his time at the University of South Carolina, where he was a student when he became the youngest living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2014.
On occasion, Carpenter speaks directly to his brothers and sisters in arms. It is with them he shares the glory of the Medal of Honor, which he says “represents every person who has taken arms against true injustice.”
Having witnessed the devastating wounds some of his fellow service members suffered, he still maintains a strong conviction that no military service or sacrifice was ever undertaken in vain. “If you were able to weaken [the enemy’s] stronghold or just give hope to those innocent people, even in the smallest of ways, so that one day they might taste the freedom of safety,” he explains, “then you made a difference.”
Although the memoir may hold special meaning for service members and veterans, You Are Worth It is accessible and holds value for readers of any background. It speaks to any human experiencing trauma because “struggle,” Carpenter writes, “is a universally understood language.”
While the chapters of Carpenter’s memoir read beautifully as a compilation of poignant recollections, each has the dual purpose of reminding readers of the most vital lessons that have propelled Carpenter through a variety of fears, doubts, trying experiences, and failures.
Particularly in the latter half of the book, chapters are titled and structured as guideposts for powering through struggle. Relatable lessons include separating past from present, embracing our scars as pathways for human connection, staying motivated, pursuing new challenges, and knowing that one’s value is always greater than a “ribbon rack or résumé.” These guideposts certainly provide powerful points of return for readers wavering in their own resolve during the inevitable periods of difficulty and strain which all humans eventually encounter.
Looking Out For One Another
Gratitude is a theme woven throughout the book. Having received so much from strangers, Carpenter has made an active practice of thanking all who gave him “a second chance at life.” “There is power,” Carpenter writes, “in moving from someone who only receives to someone who is able to give, too.” With You Are Worth It, Carpenter has given something truly moving to each person who played a part in his journey of recovery.
Carpenter’s memoir reveals a man whose character and upbringing prepared him to act heroically on instinct, but it also demonstrates numerous acts of intentional heroism Carpenter has performed in the years since his initial injury. By sharing his honest stories, and by spreading the glory of his achievements with all who enabled his success, Carpenter reminds us that we can each choose to be heroes in the way that we interact with, and care for, one another.
You Are Worth It is a work of lasting value. It holds tremendous potential to transform lives by assisting people in rising from their struggles stronger and more capable of loving one another than they were previously. Particularly when increasing division has led to an intolerance of our fellow humans, Carpenter’s experience stands to remind us of the power of kindness, which can be its own form of heroism. After all, “if we don’t spend our time on earth looking out for one another,” Carpenter asks, “what are we really doing with our lives?”
Beth Bailey is a civilian intelligence analyst turned freelance writer in southeast Michigan. Her work can be found in the Washington Examiner and the Detroit News.
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