You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For
By Kyle Carpenter and Don Yaeger
William Morrow. 320 pp. $27.99
Interview by Dan Lamothe
William Kyle Carpenter knows the pain will come.
Nine years after throwing himself on a Taliban hand grenade in Afghanistan to protect a fellow Marine from injury, Carpenter is a blur of motion. At 30, he is still the youngest current recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation's top award for valor in combat, five years after receiving it in a White House ceremony.
He has run marathons, skydived and recently launched a nationwide tour to promote his new book, You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For — all after nearly dying three times and undergoing more than 40 surgeries to reconstruct his face, right arm, and other body parts torn apart by the explosion. He’s pain-free now, he said, but he realizes that as he gets older, the catastrophic nature of his injuries is likely to cause other problems.
But that's for another day.
On a recent Friday, Carpenter — who goes by his middle name — was sitting in a dark suit and tie on a blue easy chair in front of 300 people at the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Va.
He spoke casually about his injuries, saying that doctors put “Humpty Dumpty back together again.” But he also shared struggles he has faced since receiving the Medal of Honor in 2014, including discovering that some people weren’t sensitive to his personal limits and would add surprise events to his travel schedule without asking him. He was briefly hospitalized a few months after receiving the award in a state of exhaustion, he said.
“My mind-set was that I’m going to say yes to as much as possible, therefore disappointing as few people as possible,” he said. “Now I realize now I had no time to feel. I had no time to think, self-reflect — anything.”
There’s a lot of reflection like that from Carpenter in You Are Worth It, a memoir of gritty recovery and a thank-you letter to they people who kept him alive.
The generally upbeat Carpenter describes suffering through nightmares and hallucinations while on pain medication and breaking down in tears in front of his mother, Robin. He was overwhelmed that his injuries would not allow him to eat a bowl of cereal.
“Through sobs, I managed to choke out one devastating question: ‘Look at me. Who is ever going to love me again?’” Carpenter recalled.
It's a striking admission for a wounded veteran who has been admired for his pluck and grace in the public eye and celebrated as a modern medical miracle. Carpenter has drawn more than 436,000 followers on Instagram and 50,000 on Twitter (handle: @chicksdigscars), while eschewing politics in favor of encouraging kindness and gratitude.
Carpenter said he had considered writing a book for some time but did not know where to begin. Then it hit him, he said: Everywhere he spoke, people sought him out to tell their own traumatic stories, even if they had nothing to do with the military. What if his book could speak to them, whether they had served in the military or not?
“I thought, ‘Of course!’” he said. “Everyone can relate to struggle.”
With two years of work on the book now complete, Carpenter said in an interview that he’s still trying to figure out what to do with his future. He’s not sure whether his message of overcoming adversity can break through in a country facing deep divisions, but he wants to try.