- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

BATH, Maine (AP) | Marines flushing out Iraqi insurgents after an ambush came upon a column of vehicles. A van with a father and son. A pickup truck. A tractor. A BMW with a couple of sheiks. And a Toyota Land Cruiser with four young men, all of them insurgents.

As Marines began searching the vehicles, the driver of the Land Cruiser jumped out and attacked Cpl. Jason Dunham. The two men tumbled onto the dirt road. Two Marines ran up to assist but Cpl. Dunham cried out, “No, no, no, watch his hand!”

A grenade exploded, rocking the narrow street.

Cpl. Dunham, 22, of Scio, N.Y., mortally wounded as he saved his comrades that day, will be honored Saturday at the christening of the Navy’s newest destroyer, the USS Jason Dunham. The young corporal who threw his Kevlar helmet and his body onto the grenade became the first Marine since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

His mother, Deb Dunham, said she can’t think of a greater tribute.

“It keeps his name alive and his memory alive. And that, as a parent, is what’s important, so that people don’t forget what our men and women are doing with the fight for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a cost to pay,” Mrs. Dunham said.

Mrs. Dunham, who’ll christen the ship with champagne at Bath Iron Works, will be joined by her husband, Dan, and their other three children.

Cpl. Dunham’s company commander, Maj. Trent Gibson, and other Marines who served with him in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, will attend.

First Sgt. John Ferguson, who heard Cpl. Dunham’s last words before the grenade blast, saw the insurgent and the three Marines sprawled on the ground when the dust settled April 14, 2004.

“I thought for sure all four were dead,” he said. Amazingly, though, Lance Cpl. William Hampton and Pfc. Kelly Miller, both suffering burns and shrapnel wounds, rose to their feet. Cpl. Dunham never regained consciousness and died eight days later.

While Cpl. Dunham’s name will always be synonymous with his actions on April 14, 2004, his parents remember a young man who wasn’t perfect, growing up in the small town in western New York. He excelled at sports but wasn’t the best student. He often forgot to take the trash out, they said.

But he always had a tendency to look out for others.

“Jason had the biggest heart on this planet. He was always looking out for everybody else and their welfare. When they were sad, he would make them laugh. He was that way all through his childhood growing up, and in the Marine Corps also,” Mr. Dunham said.

He was an unlikely choice for squad leader because he hadn’t seen combat. But Sgt. Ferguson, who selected him, liked what he saw: “He didn’t brag or boast about his abilities. He never yelled. In fact, the whole time I knew him he only yelled once or twice. He led by example.”

Cpl. Dunham took his role as squad leader seriously. He extended his enlistment so he could serve a full combat tour with his fellow Marines, and he vowed to make sure his squad made it home alive.

The rest of them did.

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