'If it was not for him, none of us would be here,'
Marine says of brave corporal
BY RICHARD SISK
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday he will bestow the nation's highest award for valor to a Marine from upstate New York who dove on a grenade to save his buddies in Iraq.
The Medal of Honor will go posthumously to Cpl. Jason Dunham of Scio, N.Y., who would have been 25 years old yesterday - the 231st birthday of the Marine Corps.
"You might say that he was born to be a Marine," Bush said in announcing the award at the dedication of the new National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.
Within the museum's halls, lifelike displays commemorate the esprit of the Corps from the Halls of Montezuma, to Iwo Jima, to Khe Sanh, and to the western Iraqi town of Karabilah, where Dunham suffered fatal wounds on April 14, 2004.
Dunham was on his second tour in Iraq. He could have left the Marines and returned to his hometown in western New York to pursue his dream of becoming a state trooper, but he extended his tour to stay as a machine gunner with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
"We told him he was crazy for coming out here," said Lance Cpl. Marke Dean, 22, of Owasso, Okla., who served with Dunham.
"I want to make sure everyone makes it home alive," Dean said Dunham told him. "I want to be sure you go home to your wife alive."
On the day he was wounded, Dunham was in charge of a traffic checkpoint set up after the ambush of a convoy. A man leaped out of a vehicle Dunham was searching and grabbed him by the throat. Dunham kneed the man in the chest to break the grip and tackled him as he tried to flee, according to Marine dispatches and "The Gift of Valor" by Michael Phillips.
Three other Marines rushed to help but Dunham shouted, "No! No! No! Watch his hand!" A grenade fell from the man's hand to the ground.
Dunham ripped off his Kevlar helmet and slammed it on top of the grenade and then dropped facedown on top of the helmet to smother the blast with his body and chest armor.
"If it was not for him, none of us would be here. He took the impact of the explosion," said Pfc. Kelly Miller, 21.
Dunham died 10 days later at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
At an upcoming White House ceremony, his parents, Dan and Debra Dunham, will receive the Medal of Honor for their son, the second U.S. service member to receive the highest award for service in Iraq. The first was Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was killed at the trigger of his machine gun in a fierce battle at the Baghdad Airport in 2001. Another Marine, a sailor and an Army sergeant are also under consideration for the highest medal.