Marines honor corporal's heroic sacrifice

29 Apr 2004 | Sgt. Jose L. Garcia

Recruits at the Corps' two recruit training depots will know Cpl. Jason L. Dunham.  They will know that the 22-year-old Marine lived up to the Corps' largest legends and laid down his own life to save those of his Marines.

Dunham, a machine gunner for Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment was memorialized by his battalion April 29th here.  A crowd of more than 500 Marines, sailors and soldiers gathered under a dark and cloudy sky for a memorial service to pay their last respects to a brave hero.

Dunham, from Scio, N.Y., died from his wounds April 24.  Ten days earlier, the Marine dove on top of a grenade, absorbing nearly all the blast with his own body to save his fellow Marines. 

"His was a selfless act of courage to save his fellow Marines," said Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Huff, sergeant major for 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment.  "This generation of Marines is as good as any generation we've ever had in the Corps."

Dunham was manning a vehicle checkpoint near Husaybah after a convoy was ambushed April 14.  He observed car pull up and a man jump from the vehicle, sprinting away.  Dunham - in full combat gear - chased the man down, tackling him to the ground.   

Other Marines came to assist in the apprehension when the terrorist pulled a pin from a hand grenade.  Dunham dove onto the grenade, taking the blast into his own body, saving the lives of his Marines.  Dunham suffered serious wounds, along with two other Marines.  But were it not for his actions, all three might have died.   

"He new what he was doing," said Lance Cpl. Jason A. Sanders, 21, from McAllester, Okla., and a mortar man with Company K.  "He wanted to save Marines' lives from that grenade."

Another mortar man with the company, Lance Cpl. Mark E. Dean, 22, from Owasso, Okla., described Dunham as an unselfish Marine.  Dunham's enlistment was to end in June, but he voluntarily extended his contract to join his Marines.

"We told him he was crazy for coming out here," Dean explained.   "He decided to come out here and fight with us.  All he wanted was to make sure his boys made it back home."

"The only way to honor him is in his own way," said Capt. Trent A. Gibson, commanding officer for Company K.  "We must continue to do our duty, take care of our Marines, lead by example and take the fight to the enemy."

Dunham dreamed of joining the Los Angeles Police Department after his tour. 

He was born Nov. 10, 1981 and joined the Marine Corps July 31, 2000.  The Marine completed recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.  He joined 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in September 2003, serving with 4th Platoon as a machine gunner.

Huff said commanders with the battalion are still awaiting eyewitness statements from Marines before determining at what level they will recommend Dunham for a decoration.

"What Corporal Dunham did equates to what a lot of heroes of our past have done to earn the nation's highest honor," explained Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell, 1st Marine Division's sergeant major.  "If it were up to me, he'd be put in for the Medal of Honor.  From bits and pieces of what I'm hearing, it very well could be.

"He'll be in the history books, like many of our Marines here," Bell added.

Dunham survived his wounds for ten days when his parents, Daniel K. Dunham and Natalie J. Sherwood made the decision to end life support for the Marine.  According to Bell, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada were at Dunham's bedside with his parents at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland when he died.

"That in itself speaks volumes knowing that no matter who it is - general officer or a corporal - his act alone warrants a visit from the Commandant," Bell said.  "I know that the Marines who are alive today, because of what Corporal Dunham did, will never forget that Marine as long as they live.

"Corporal Dunham is everybody's hero," Bell added.  "He sacrificed his life so his Marines could continue the mission."

"God made something special when he made Jason," Dean said, "It was a privilege and honor to know him.  It's sad he is gone but he is living it up in heaven and I'm happy for that."