By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the honor of wearing the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
Up until 2004, a Marine had not received the Medal of Honor since Vietnam. But that changed when 22-year-old Cpl. Jason Dunham gave his life for his country and fellow Marines during the Iraq War.
Dunham, a native of upstate New York, joined the Marines right out of high school and was a member of the 7th Marines, 3d Battalion, 4th Platoon, Company K when he deployed to Iraq, where he served as a rifle squad leader.
On April 14, 2004, Dunham was in the midst of a reconnaissance mission in Karabilah, Iraq, when he and his fellow Marines heard rocket-propelled grenades and other live fire a little over a mile away. They discovered that a nearby convoy had been ambushed on its way to Camp Husaybah.
Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team toward the fight to reinforce the ambushed patrol, ordering his squad out of their vehicles once they got into enemy territory so they could move on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy.
The group found several Iraqi vehicles lined up to leave the area, so they stopped them and did a search for weapons. One insurgent leaped out of one of the vehicles and grabbed Dunham by the throat. The two wrestled to the ground, and that’s when Dunham noticed the insurgent had dropped a live grenade.
Dunham yelled out to his crew to alert them about it, then without hesitating, threw his Kevlar helmet and body over the explosive device as it went off. He bore the brunt of the explosion and saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines.
It was a selfless act of bravery for which Dunham likely knew he would die. But he survived the initial explosion for eight grueling days before succumbing to his injuries at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. His mom and dad were at his bedside.
Dunham’s family received the Medal of Honor on his behalf on Jan. 11, 2007. During President George W. Bush’s speech, he described the Marine as one who led by example – the kind who signed up for an extra two months of deployment to stay with his squad, and the type who “would stop patrols to play street soccer with the Iraqi schoolchildren.”
Dunham has been the only Marine who served in the War in Iraq to receive the Medal of Honor, and his sacrifice has been a beacon of what it means to serve ever since.
On Nov. 13, 2010 – three days after Dunham would have turned 29 on a birthday that matches the Marine Corps’ itself – the Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham was named in his honor. A memorial mess hall was also opened in his name in February 2014 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California.
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