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Remember sacrifices of our warriors

Last week, William “Kyle” Carpenter got the news that he would receive the Medal of Honor next month for his valor on the field in Afghanistan. Carpenter was wounded in Helmand province in 2010 when he rushed toward a hand grenade tossed nearby while he and another Marine manned a rooftop during a firefight.

Carpenter lost most of his jaw and an eye when he fell on the grenade to shield the other Marine from the blast. His body shattered, one lung collapsed, he was deemed dead on arrival at a field hospital. Later he again nearly died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Retired from the military, today he is a student at the University of South Carolina.

Carpenter will join another Kyle, Charlotte resident Kyle White, as one of eight living recipients of the Medal of Honor from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Former Army Sgt. White, a banker, endured two concussions and shrapnel in his face, while pulling wounded soldiers to cover during the deadly firefight that killed six Americans and three Afghan National Army soldiers. He received the highest military award earlier this month.

Carpenter and White survived war. But their stories are the kind shared by more than 1.3 million others who’ve died defending this country (850,000 in combat) since the American Revolution. Theirs are stories of sacrifice, of love and support for comrades, of commitment to duty, of devotion to cause and country.

As you spend time with family and friends, picnicking or barbecuing, enjoying the weekend that welcomes summer, take a moment to remember those warriors who died protecting us – and those who came home scarred in ways we can’t imagine.

After all, Memorial Day didn’t begin as simply a day off from work. It began as a day for remembering and expressing gratitude to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States. The first observances, known as Decoration Day, were for those who died in service during the Civil War – both Union and Confederate soldiers.

It became Memorial Day in 1882 and evolved to honor all U.S. soldiers killed in every conflict up to the present.

Carpenter and White are flesh-and-blood reminders that thousands of Americans still risk their lives each day to protect us and preserve our freedoms.

It might be difficult for someone who hasn’t lost a loved one to war, or hasn’t known a military family enduring long deployments, to truly understand the sacrifices being made.

Thankfully, the Medal of Honor recognitions have shone a bright light on those sacrifices. The men being honored exemplify the adage that is old but true: Freedom is never free. Somebody pays the cost of securing it.

Today, take time to remember those somebodies – the living and the dead. They have earned our gratitude.

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