He served his country bravely and selflessly, covering a live grenade with his own helmet and body to save the lives of his fellow Marines in Iraq. For his actions, President Bush awarded Cpl. Jason Dunham (posthumously) the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now, the Marines at Parris Island are taking their own steps to make sure Cpl. Dunham's courage and sacrifice are always remembered.
"We miss him, but we're very proud of him," Deb Dunham told Marines and Marine recruits at Page Field on Parris Island.
Deb Dunham and her husband Dan wouldn't be anywhere else today. The Marine Corps is naming one of the stations in the Crucible, the 54-hour training event that brings together everything a Marine recruit learns, Dunham's Defense, in memory of their son.
Cpl. Jason Dunham was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on April 14, 2004. Cpl. Dunham, a squadron leader with the 4th Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division, was attacked by an insurgent as he and his men were trying to search their cars. As they fought, the man threw out a grenade. Putting his fellow Marines' safety first, Dunham dove for it, covering it with his body and kevlar helmet. He died eight days later with his parents by his side. He was only 22.
"It's a double edged sword," said his mother. "As much as we miss him, there's so much pride there because he did the right thing and that actually makes it easier in some ways, knowing that what he did meant the lives of three other Marines."
Words of encouragement from Marines like Gunnery Sgt. Musa Johnson let the Dunhams know their son won't be forgotten.
"We appreciate the sacrifice you made by letting him come to the Marine Corps," said Gunnery Sgt. Johnson, a senior drill instructor at Parris Island who stopped to thank the couple. He said the drill instructors are making sure recruits know Cpl. Dunham's story. "If you ask any one of them who Jason Dunham is, they know. We're sorry he didn't come home, but he's still alive in these recruits."
Dan Dunham said the family has met several thousand Marines since their son's death. He calls them, "the finest people on this earth."
"We actually have phone calls every week for three and a half years now from Marines," he said. "Asking, 'How are you doing? Do you need anything?'"
"They are the toughest and the best," Deb Dunham added. "These are the ones you want with you when anything goes wrong, but they're also the ones you want with you if anything goes wrong for the simple fact that their hearts are huge and they're not afraid or ashamed to share that or show that. Whether it's taking our son for a walk so that he can vent or making sure that (Cpl. Dunham's 14-year-old sister) Katie's OK and giving her the low-down on dating and what not to do and what to steer clear of or checking to see if we're OK on Mother's Day and Father's Day."
The Marine Corps said Cpl. Dunham embodied the Corps' values of honor, courage and commitment. The Marines at Parris Island hope, like the men at Iwo Jima, he'll be remembered not only by his fellow Marines, but by everyone who comes to Parris Island.
Dunham's picture was placed on the Wall of Heroes in the Second Recruit Training Battalion headquarters' conference room next to the photos of other Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients. His company commander, Major Trent Gibson, talked with recruits there, calling Dunham a true example of selfless service and sacrifice.
"My intent was for them to understand that it doesn't take anything extraordinary to be a leader," he said. "You just need to be a good person. You need to be humble enough to subordinate yourself to the team that you're part of. Hopefully, they can take the inspiration of his story and use that to make a difference in their own way in the Marine Corps and in their lives."
Major Gibson said Cpl. Dunham's life is more than just an example for Marines. His sacrifice and giving spirit is a model for everyone.
"This world is more than just about you," he said. "I think that, in the end, we're measured as human beings by whether or not we've made a difference. If I could get everyone to make a positive difference in someone else's life, then Cpl. Dunham's example will continue to live on."
Cpl. Jason Dunham is the only Marine to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the first Marine to be honored with the nation's highest military award since the Vietnam War.
To learn more about Cpl. Jason Dunham, click here, http://www.jasonsmemorial.org
To read the story and see President Bush present Cpl. Dunham's family with his Congressional Medal of Honor, click here, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/01/20070111-1.html