Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham


Died April 22, 2004 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

Also Remembering Lance Corporal Zachary Smith


Dunham, 22, of Scio, N.Y.; assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, at Twentynine Palms, Calif.; died April 22 at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., of injuries sustained April 14 when he used his body to shield comrades from a grenade explosion in Husaybah, Iraq. He will receive the Medal of Honor.

Marine to receive Medal of Honor

By Gidget Fuentes

Staff writer

President Bush announced today that Cpl. Jason Dunham, who died more than two years ago after covering a grenade with his helmet to save his fellow Marines, will receive the Medal of Honor.

This will be the first Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest award for battlefield heroism — bestowed on a Marine in the Iraq war and the first earned for combat action since 1970, during the Vietnam War.

Dunham, a 22-year-old machine gunner from Scio, N.Y., was manning a checkpoint near Karabilah, near the Syrian border in Iraq, on April 14, 2004, when an Iraqi man grabbed his throat. As the two scuffled, the Iraqi dropped a grenade with the pin removed, and Dunham quickly jumped on it, using his Kevlar helmet and body to smother the blast.

Shrapnel pierced his skull, and he died eight days later with his parents at his side at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.

Bush announced the award during a ceremony today at Quantico, Va., where Marines and other top military and government leaders gathered for the grand opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

The Medal of Honor is typically presented by the president at an Oval Office ceremony at the White House.

Three of Dunham’s platoon mates with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, suffered shrapnel wounds but survived. Two weeks later, Kilo Marines mourned Dunham at a memorial service held at their camp in Qaim, Iraq. “He knew what he was doing. He wanted to save Marines’ lives from that grenade,” said Lance Cpl. Jason Sanders, 21, a mortarman, according to a Marine Corps News article.

Dunham’s story was told in a book, “A Gift of Valor,” penned by a Wall Street Journal reporter embedded with 3/7 battalion in the spring 2004. In an article the reporter, Michael M. Phillips, wrote just weeks after Dunham’s death, unit leaders already had weighed the gravity of his final combat action and the potential recognition of that heroism.

The battalion commander at the time, Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, submitted Dunham’s nomination for the Medal of Honor, noting “I deeply believe that given the facts and evidence presented, he clearly understood the situation and attempted to block the blast of the grenade from his squad members. His personal action was far beyond the call of duty and saved the lives of his fellow Marines,” Phillips recounted in his article.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., later issued a statement asking the president to award the Medal of Honor to Dunham, noting that his actions “embodied the courage and fortitude that have made the armed forces of the United States the most respected in the world. I can imagine no clearer case of an individual soldier exhibiting the ideals that the Congressional Medal was established to honor.”

Since his death, Dunham’s family and friends have maintained a web site,, and a memorial scholarship fund but largely have stayed on the sidelines as the nomination has run through the deliberate review process.

“Jason would have wanted to earn it on his own,” his mother, Deb Dunham, told Marine Corps Times in September. “We feel he’s earned it.”

Others honored

Dunham is the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor since Vietnam, and the second to receive it for actions in the Iraq war.

On April 4, 2005, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith’s family received the award in a White House ceremony, two years after Smith died in Iraq.

Smith was with 2nd Platoon, B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion when it was ordered to set up a temporary detainee facility at Saddam International Airport during the initial invasion. As the unit moved in, an enemy force of roughly 100 Iraqi soldiers attacked with mortars, automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Smith ordered a soldier to put an armored personnel carrier between members of his unit and the enemy. Smith then manned the carrier’s .50-caliber machine gun and told a soldier who accompanied him to “feed me ammunition whenever you hear the gun get quiet,” according to his Medal of Honor citation. He fired through at least three boxes of ammunition from the exposed position until he was mortally wounded by enemy fire.

The citation said Smith’s actions saved the lives of at least 100 soldiers, while killing 20 to 50 enemy soldiers.

As for Marine recipients, while some have received the award in recent years for decades-old actions, the last time a Marine earned the Medal of Honor was in 1970. Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith received the award posthumously based on his actions on May 8, 1970, in Quang Ngai province.

Four other Marines were awarded for actions that year: Pfc. Raymond “Mike” Clausen for actions on Jan. 31; Gunnery Sgt. Allan Kellogg for actions on March 11; Lance Cpl. Emilio de la Garza, April 11; and Lance Cpl. James Howe, May 6.

Two other Marines have reportedly been nominated for the Medal of Honor for heroism in Iraq. Sgt. Rafael Peralta, 25, with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, died Nov. 15, 2004, during the second battle of Fallujah. His unit had been fighting insurgents in a house when he was mortally wounded. He then cradled a grenade to save other Marines in the room.

The other name mentioned has been Lance Cpl. Christopher Adlesperger, 20, with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, who died Dec. 9, 2004. One month earlier, Adlesperger, after taking fire from a house during the Fallujah battle, climbed to the top of the house, fired grenades through the roof, shot and killed insurgents as they ran out of the house and led the charge back into the house to make sure it was secure, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

Marine who threw himself between grenade and comrades mourned

Associated Press

SCIO, N.Y. — Mourners Saturday filled one of Cpl. Jason Dunham’s favorite places — his high school gym — for the funeral of the Marine, who died in Iraq after using his own body to shield his men from an attacker’s grenade.

The gym, packed with more than 1,500 people, is the largest gathering space in the upstate New York town of Scio, where Dunham grew up. His casket rested beneath a basketball hoop.

Dunham, 22, died from wounds he sustained April 14 in Iraq.

A report from the Marine Corps said Dunham was commanding a check point near Karbala when a man got out of a car and tried to flee. Dunham tackled the man, who then pulled a pin from a hand grenade. Dunham dove onto the grenade before it exploded, the Marines reported. Two other Marines were injured.

Dunham, with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, was remembered in Iraq on Thursday at a service attended by more than 500 Marines, sailors and soldiers, the Marines reported.

Dunham “never judged anyone and he never judged the people over there,” friend Justin Lambert said at Saturday’s funeral. “He was just doing his job. He’s going to be missed.”

As a long procession of cars and walkers accompanied the casket to the nearby cemetery, Scio residents sat on their porches and children lined the sidewalk. An American flag was draped above the highway.

Dunham’s parents, carrying the tri-folded flag that had draped their eldest son’s coffin, and their three younger children were escorted by the Marines to an awaiting car.

“The Marine Corps have really showed us how much this means to them,” said Cpl. Dunham’s father, Dan. “They’ve been very good to us.”

Upstate New York Marine dies in Maryland hospital

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A 22-year-old upstate New York Marine wounded while fighting in Iraq died at a naval hospital in Maryland.

Cpl. Jason Dunham of Scio in Allegany County died Thursday afternoon at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md., according to local broadcast stations and newspapers. Dunham was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Kilo Company based in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Confirmation of Dunham’s death by U.S. military officials was not immediately available Friday night.

Relatives say Jason Dunham never regained consciousness after sustaining a head injury from shrapnel in the Iraqi city of Karbala on April 14.

Dunham was first taken to a Baghdad hospital in critical condition. He was moved to a hospital in Germany where his condition improved and moved recently to the Bethesda hospital, where his parents flew to be with him.

The eldest of four children, Dunham enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2000 after graduating from Scio Central School, 70 miles southeast of Buffalo. His father, Daniel Dunham, said Jason was scheduled to be out of the service in July.

“We’re just proud of him, and we’re thankful for the people of Scio for being his friend and our friends,” Dan Dunham, an Air Force veteran, told WKBW-TV.

— Associated Press

Marine who died saving comrades nominated for Medal of Honor

Jason Dunham stepped into the role of protector long before he ever donned a Marine uniform.

As a teenager, he put himself between a friend and an adversary to protect his buddy during a fight. As a brother, he would warn his little sister to watch out for boys. As a man, he dreamed of becoming a state trooper — so long as work didn’t take him too far from home, where he could keep an eye on those he loved most.

Dunham died as he had lived, said the minister at his burial last May: “Caring more for others than himself.”

He has been nominated for the Medal of Honor, given for extraordinary valor without regard to one’s safety.

On April 14, the 22-year-old corporal from Scio, N.Y., was patrolling a vehicle checkpoint near Husaybah, Iraq, when a man leapt from a car and snatched Dunham by his throat. As Dunham wrestled with his attacker, he apparently spotted a grenade in the Iraqi’s hand and shouted a warning to other Marines rushing to his aid.

Marine Corps officials would later conclude that Dunham dived onto the explosive and covered it with his helmet to shield his comrades. He died a week later at a U.S. hospital, his parents by his side. His mother, Deb, held one hand. His father, Dan, clasped the other.

“He never opened his eyes,” his mother said.

Dunham is among several Americans in the Iraq war who gave their lives to save another. Marine Sgt. Kirk Straseskie, 23, of Beaver Dam, Wis., drowned after he jumped into a canal to rescue victims of a helicopter crash. Army Sgt. Jaror Puello-Coronado, 36, of Pocono Summit, Pa., was hit by an out-of-control truck after he pushed another soldier out of its path.

Dunham is the first person in this conflict to be recommended for the nation’s highest military honor, according to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. In a letter asking President Bush to approve the Medal of Honor nomination, Schumer noted that Dunham’s “unbelievable bravery and selflessness” saved the lives of at least two other Marines.

“I can imagine no clearer a case of an individual soldier exhibiting the ideals that the Congressional Medal was established to honor.”

Dunham’s mother says they were ideals her son displayed all his life.

“He was a hero before this,” she said. “It didn’t take this for us to find that out.”

— Associated Press

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