A year from now, when the Marine Corps turns 236 on Nov. 10, 2011, crew members of the Navy’s newest destroyer may remind themselves that it would also have been Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham’s 30th birthday.
More than six years after Dunham’s death, the Navy commissioned DDG 109, named for the Medal of Honor recipient, on Saturday morning in Port Everglades, Fla.
Dunham was leading a squad during an April 2004 reconnaissance mission in Karabilah, Iraq, when his unit responded to an insurgent ambush of a Marine convoy. During the fighting, Dunham threw himself on a live grenade, covering it with his helmet and body to absorb the explosion. His action saved the lives of two fellow Marines.
He died April 22, eight days after the explosion, at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
President George W. Bush awarded Dunham the Medal of Honor, the first Marine to receive it since the Vietnam War.
“[The ship’s name] gives a lot of meaning for the crew because Jason was from their generation,” said the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Scott Sciretta. “They can relate to a modern-day hero, someone who exhibited total self sacrifice for the greater good.”
To honor Dunham’s legacy, Sciretta said, the ship’s crew had performed more than 3,000 hours of community service during their time at Bath Iron Works, Maine, double what other Bath ships had previously recorded.
Sciretta said he had developed a close relationship with the Dunham family; Dunham’s mother, Debra, is the ship’s sponsor.
“It’s been very special,” he said. “You know, Mr. and Mrs. Dunham are only a few years older than me.
“It’s been special to have them share their feelings, the grieving, and their personal stories about Jason. It’s a very emotional tie. There is just so much to learn about Jason the man, even in just the 22 short years he lived.”
Debra and Dan Dunham, Jason’s mother and father, planned to attend the commissioning. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos was the keynote speaker.
Amos said in a statement to Navy Times that he was honored to take part in the ceremony that commemorates the Marine he called a “true hero.”
“Corporal Jason Dunham and the Dunham family epitomize the word selflessness,” Amos said. “The Dunham family has borne the heaviest burden, the sacrifice of their son and brother. We can never repay them for this, but we can honor Jason and the Dunham family for their selfless sacrifice to our nation.”
Amos said that commissioning was not just a great day for the Navy but also “a great day for the Marine Corps.”
“We honor a warrior, leader, and Medal of Honor recipient,” he said. “There is no better symbol of the inextricable bond between our two services than a ship of the United States Navy bearing the name of a United States Marine. I wish fair winds and following seas to CDR Sciretta and the crew of the USS Jason Dunham.”
photos courtesy of: USMC
story by: David Larter