Sunday, March 25, 2007
The small-town, high school gym where Jason Dunham played basketball provided the backdrop for a U.S. Navy ceremony honoring his sacrifices as a Marine. Navy Secretary Donald Winter formally announced the Navy will name its next destroyer the USS Jason Dunham for the Marine corporal who died after throwing himself on a grenade to save at least two lives during a struggle with an Iraqi insurgent three years ago. “There is no higher honor in the Navy than to have a ship named after you,” said Winters at a ceremony attended by Dunham's parents, Deb and Dan, and much of the 470-member student body in this Allegany County town in southwestern New York. In January, Dunham's parents were in Washington with President Bush to accept a Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to their son, the nation's highest military commendation. Back in the small gym decorated with handmade signs and a poster of the DDG 109 destroyer, the honors continued.
Deb Dunham, the mother of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, chats with Navy Capt. Beci Brenton in the gymnasium of Scio Central School following the ceremony dedicating a guided missile destroyer to be named for her son, a Medal of Honor recipient.“With every event, we miss him more,” said Deb Dunham, who was moved to tears when the younger children sang “Proud to Be an American.” “It means we're stepping in one more time to fulfill something that we wish he were here to do,” she said. Dunham, 22, was investigating a report that a Marine convoy had been ambushed when he led his men to the site near Husaybah and halted a convoy of departing cars, according to a Marine Corps account. An insurgent in one of the vehicles grabbed him by the throat when he went to search the car and the two fought. A grenade was dropped, and Dunham covered the explosive with his Kevlar helmet, which, along with his chest armor plate, absorbed some of the blast. He lived long enough to be transferred to a Bethesda, Md., hospital, where he died with his parents beside him. “It's not about war or politics,” Dan Dunham said. “It's that he was willing to give up his life for others. I truly believe that every person on this earth should be that way.” The USS Jason Dunham is under construction, Winters said, and is expected to be commissioned in 2010. Gen. Joseph Dunford, director of operations for the Marines, said it was fitting that a guided missile destroyer be named for the young Marine, since destroyers have historically supported the Marines.