Sometimes we pastors are humbled by the wisdom we find in others. We think that we, having been schooled in scripture, have a monopoly on wisdom. And then we hear someone speak on life and truth from a deeply personal experience, and we realize we have no such monopoly and our pontificating may be lacking something. Here is an example of a true account that leaves me feeling humble.
On Feb. 13, 2010, U.S. Marines stormed the Taliban base of Marjah in the southern part of Afghanistan in what was called Operation Moshtarak (from an Afghan word meaning “together”). This attack was, to that point, the largest military operation since the then nine-year war in Afghanistan began. Unfortunately, the operation took much longer than anticipated, and it also took more lives than expected.
Approximately 78 U.S. and British troops lost their lives in Operation Moshtarak. Despite these losses, the operation was a success. Taliban insurgents were flushed out, and the security and safety of the region was restored. But also from this battle, we get one of the Marine Corps’ greatest stories of heroism.
When a grenade landed on a rooftop in front of a fellow soldier, Cpl. Kyle Carpenter threw himself on it. It went off just as he landed on it. “The first thing I remember is just feeling like my entire body, and especially my face, just got hit really hard with a 2x4,” Carpenter would later recall. Although he saved his fellow soldier, Carpenter was a mess. He was labeled “PEA” at the military medical facility, which means “patient expired on arrival.”
But Carpenter lived. He suffered a skull fracture and a punctured lung. He was blinded in his right eye, both of his eardrums were both ruptured, the carotid artery in his neck was punctured, he’d suffered 30 fractures to his right arm, shrapnel in both legs, and he lost most of his lower teeth. He subsequently endured multiple surgeries.
On the five-year anniversary of the launch of Operation Moshtarak, medically-retired Cpl. Kyle Carpenter spoke to several hundred Marjah veterans at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Here is his moving speech:
“With this short amount of time I have to speak to you tonight, I couldn’t possibly sum up the historical battle of Marjah.
“I am comforted, though, by the fact that the men in this room don’t need a summary because you were right there beside me. You felt the incredible heat of a 100-percent humidity day and the cool waters of a muddy canal. You felt the weight of 100 pounds of gear, ammo and water at your back, the weight of knowing as Marines we are and forever will be the first line of defense for our loved ones, our nation and above all, freedom.
“I stand here today extremely proud of you all. I’m proud of the job you did in the face of what most cannot even fathom. I am more than honored to call you friends, fellow Marines and brothers. You stand as an example for others and for what’s best for not only our nation but the rest of the world.
“The United States military member is a beacon of hope in dark places for suffering people around the world. Many have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Many gave their limbs to help people have lives free of oppression and full of freedom and prosperity.
“Even though there are dark days and have been dark days since our deployment, and long nights, remember what General Patton said: ‘It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died; rather, we should thank God that such men lived.’
“Be proud of who you are. Be proud of what you did in that country. You are alive today and have been blessed with this opportunity of life. Don’t waste it. Live a life worth living, full of meaning and purpose, and one that will make the fallen who are looking down on us proud.”
We should all thank God that Kyle Carpenter lived, and may God continue to bless him.
Bob LeFavi is a member of the Society of Ordained Scientists. He is the pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Springfield.