COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) – In the heart of Maury County, sits Columbia, a place known for its small-town charm.
“They all came out, they all supported us,” said Cindy Carpenter. That’s just what people do here, and that’s especially the case with Lance Corporal Andrew Carpenter. “Our son, Andrew, what a wonderful person he was,” said Cindy.
Andrew was a hero in this town, but there was nothing “small” about him. “He was a great kid,” said Kevin, Andrew’s father. “Cindy mentioned his smile, couldn’t get it off his face.”
Andrew’s smile was big, but so was his heart. “He served everybody, he was just a joy to be around,” said Cindy.
The loss, though, was even bigger. “You don’t see it coming,” she said.
On February 19, 2011, United States Marine Corps Lance Corporal Andrew Carpenter was in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom when he was shot in the neck. It was his second tour of duty with the Marines. Andrew was rushed to Landstuhl Medical Center.
Back home in Columbia, Cindy got a call from her husband. “He’s just uncontrollably crying and I said, ‘What is wrong?'” And he said, ‘Andrew has been shot,'” remembered Cindy.
Cindy and Kevin flew to Germany to be with their son. But Andrew’s new wife, Chrissie, couldn’t travel because she was 8 months pregnant with their first child. After 3 days, the decision was made to take Andrew off life support. He was just 26-years-old.
“He’s my baby,” said Cindy. “He was always my baby.”
One month later, Andrew’s widow, Crissie, gave birth to their son, Landon. “It’s very hard to just get married the year before, lose him and then have a baby,” said Cindy. “Andrew would have been a great dad. He would have been on the floor playing with him.”
Crissie, who wasn’t available to be interviewed for this story, wanted to honor her late husband. “He just lay down on his daddy’s camouflage outfits,” remembered Kevin of the iconic and emotional pictures of baby Landon lying on his father’s things. The heartbreaking picture touched people all across the world.
Now, Landon is 6-years-old. “He’s asking a lot more questions now,” said Cindy. “At birthday parties, he says, ‘Why isn’t my daddy here,’ and she (Crissie) says, ‘Your daddy would be here if he could.'”
Instead, they visit Andrew at his gravesite, where his favorite quote is engraved on a bench: “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.” President Ronald Reagan said it in 1985, and Andrew Carpenter’s life was proof of it.
“I cry everyday for him at times,” said Kevin. “You’ll see something that brings back a memory.” Memories of Andy are not hard to come by here. “He would come in at night and walk into that bedroom and he would sit down. He’d sit down behind my shoulders and talk to me. I miss that.”
Getting over a loss this great really never happens. Andrew Carpenter is unforgettable to most people in Columbia. He’s their hero for making the ultimate sacrifice. But to his family, “he’s my hero just because of who he was, just the smile on his face. If you thought that he was sad that would be hard, but he was happy,” said Cindy. “He was happy with where he was and what he was doing and why he was doing it.”
And even though Landon will never meet his father, there’s no shortage of people in town ready to tell him about the kind of man he was.
One more memorial is planned for Andrew, the Marine Corps League of Columbia will officially be re-named the “Lance Corporal Andrew P. Carpenter League, Detachment 1286.”