Medal of Honor recipient recalls harrowing Afghan battle

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - For the first time since Vietnam, two living service members have received the Medal of Honor for the same battle. Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha received his in February. On Monday, President Obama presented the nation's highest military award to Staff Sgt. Ty Carter.

The Battle of Combat Outpost Keating -- seen in a video shot by the Taliban as they fired down on the isolated base -- was probably the most desperate battle of the Afghan War.

You can measure it by casualties: half the 54 American defenders dead or wounded; or by courage -- two Medals of Honor for the same battle.

Staff Sgt. Ty Carter was involved in the Battle of Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan in October 2009. Under enemy gunfire, he was able to rescue a fellow soldier.
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"The two medals tell the truth of how terrible that day was," said Sgt. Ty Carter.

Medal of Honor awarded to Army SSgt Ty Carter

The army has produced an intricate recreation of what Sgt. Carter did that day but no diagram can capture what happened on Oct. 3, 2009.

"The enemy was above us, behind us, all around us," Carter recalled. "We were cut off, surrounded, outnumbered, outgunned, low on ammo and everybody friendly who was in sight was either wounded or dead."

Carter raced across the base to reinforce a guard post. We're not positive from the video that showed a man running, but that may well be him.

When told that running across open ground under fire was a good way for him to get killed, Carter responded: "Yes, but I wasn't thinking of that at the time. I was thinking the more bullets I saw impact the faster I needed to go."

He had to cross that open ground again and again, bringing fresh supplies of ammo to the guard post.

Watch Staff Sgt. Ty Carter receive the Medal of Honor from President Obama:

"Except this time the incoming fire was more intense," said Carter, "and I think they were gunning for me because the explosions were close enough to where the concussion was actually pushing me as I ran from side to side."

Two soldiers at the guard post -- Sgts. Justin Gallegos and Vernon Martin -- were killed by machine gun fire, and Spc. Stephan Mace lay gravely wounded.

"It almost looked like he was crying," said Carter, "but he was too dehydrated to form any tears. He said, 'Please help me.'"

Carter left the shelter of an armored Humvee and went to Mace's side. He was doing this while the enemy's shooting at him. "I was so focused on helping Mace that I didn't notice it and it didn't faze me," he said.

Carter and Sgt. Bradley Larson, both now wounded by shrapnel, dashed across the open ground one more time, carrying Mace on a stretcher.

"I thought to myself if I was ever going to run so hard to where my lungs lit on fire and my chest exploded from my heart going out, this would be the day," said Carter.

Staff Sgt. Ty Carter was able to rescue Spc. Stephan Mace, who was gravely wounded; he later died.
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But in war, courage is not always rewarded. Stephan Mace died on the operating table.

"The fact that either I didn't get to him in time or I didn't do the right thing made me believe that I had failed fully and completely," said Carter.

When told he couldn't have tried any harder, Carter added: "You don't think about that when it's happening."

Thinking about what Sgt. Carter did doesn't make it any easier to understand where he found the courage. But it does convince you that he did not fail.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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