Some might say November 20, 1981 was a date that destiny was set in motion. That day was the 206th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. It also was the day Jason Lee Dunham was born in Scio, New York. Jason grew up as a huge fan of the New York Yankees and played basketball in high school.
After graduating from Scio High School in 2000, Dunham enlisted in the Marines. He completed recruit training in October of the same year, and was eventually posted as part of the Marine security force at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia where he served until 2003. Dunham joined the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in September 2003 when the battalion returned to the United States from their combat service during the invasion of Iraq. The unit would deploy for their second combat tour in February 2004 with the 1st Marine Division.
Dunham, now a Corporal and a rifle squad leader in the 4th Platoon, Company K, 3/7 Marines, was dispatched on a patrol on April 14, 2004 after the battalion commander’s convoy was attacked. The Marines approached a civilian vehicle and found it loaded with weapons.
This was ten years ago today.
The driver of the vehicle attempted to flee, and Corporal Dunham attacked him hand-to-hand to apprehend him. During their fight, the insurgent driver dropped a live grenade. Dunham shouted a warning to his fellow Leathernecks, and then attempted to smother the blast with his helmet first, and his body second.
The grenade detonated. Dunham absorbed most of the explosion, but the Marines around him still suffered minor shrapnel wounds. In the confusion, the insurgent (also wounded) tried to escape, but was shot dead by the Marines. They then turned to render aid to their stricken squad leader. The young Corporal survived to reach medical care in Iraq, and was evacuated back to the United States and Bethesda Naval Hospital within days.
On April 22, 2004, the doctors at Bethesda determined that Dunham had suffered too much brain and other physical damage to recover. His parents decided to terminate life support and were at their son’s side as he passed away, with General Hagee and Sergeant Major John L. Estrada, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (the senior enlisted man of the Corps) there to comfort them and honor their son’s sacrifice.
On the 231st birthday of the Marines, November 10, 2006 – what would have been Jason Dunham’s 25th birthday – President George W. Bush announced at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia that Dunham would be awarded the Medal of Honor, the first Marine so honored since the Vietnam War.
Organization: U.S. Marine Corps, Company K, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004. Corporal Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander’s convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
President Bush presented Corporal Dunham’s Medal to his parents on January 11, 2007 in the East Room at the White House. He rests in peace at the Fairlawn Cemetery in his home town of Scio.
On August 1, 2009 at Bath Iron Works in Maine, the United States Navy launched the future USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, with Dunham’s mother Debra as the ship’s sponsor. The Dunham was commissioned on November 13, 2010 and today is homeported at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
A portion of Corporal Dunham’s helmet, shredded by the grenade blast, is encased in the ship’s mast. The remainder of the helmet and his body armor is on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
On board the Dunham, the sailors eat in “Jason’s Dugout”, baseball-themed with Yankees’ memorabilia. The ship’s crew also passes by a display case daily with the namesake’s dress blue uniform in it, and with a copy of his Medal.
3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment is still a constituent part of the 1st Marine Division and is based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.