No Greater Love

Jason Dunham, of Scio, NY, is just like any other young American male in his mid-20s, except for this important distinction: he’s dead.

But it’s not that simple. To be more accurate about Jason — specifically regarding what it is that really made him different from any other 24-year-old — you must know this additional context: Jason Dunham, a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, is no longer with us because he gave his life in Iraq for his Marine Corps brothers, as well as — indirectly — for the freedom of every one of us back home. Coincidentally, he shares a birthday (the day before Veteran’s Day) with the Corps; he would have turned 25 last fall on the day that the USMC, which has been fortunate beyond measure to have contained men of Dunham’s quality for over two centuries, turned 231.

Though necessary, it hardly scratches the surface of sufficient repayment to Corporal Dunham, and to his family, that his parents were presented a posthumously-awarded Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest possible award for military valor, in his name by President Bush in a January 11 ceremony at the White House.

The Medal, established by Joint Resolution of Congress, can be awarded to an Armed Forces member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against any enemy of the United States, while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.” Corporal Jason Dunham embodied these principles and requirements to a “T,” and was as deserving of the Medal of Honor as any have been.

What Dunham did to earn this most distinguished of awards is stunning in its selflessness and heroism. According to a brief report of his actions:

On April 14, 2004, Corporal Dunham heroically saved the lives of two of his fellow Marines by jumping on a grenade during an ambush in the town of Karabilah.

When a nearby Marine convoy was ambushed, Corporal Dunham led his squad to the site of the attack, where he and his men stopped a convoy of cars trying to make an escape. As he moved to search one of the vehicles, an insurgent jumped out and grabbed the corporal by the throat.

The corporal engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. At one point, he shouted to his fellow Marines, “No! No! No! Watch his hand!”

Moments later, an enemy grenade rolled out and Corporal Dunham jumped on the grenade to protect his fellow Marines, using his helmet and body to absorb the blast. Corporal Dunham succumbed to his wounds on April 22, 2004.

This amazing sacrifice was the result of a mindset which is as intrinsic to the mind of the soldier as it is foreign to the mind of the civilian. With this act, as well as with the rest of his actions while in the service — and doubtless before — Jason Dunham displayed the incredible bravery, love, and selflessness which is the very embodiment of the Gospel of John, chapter fifteen, verse thirteen, which says, “Greater love hath no man than this — that he lay down his life for his friends.”

As the war in Iraq rages on, and more soldiers are sent to the region in an effort to bring that conflict to a successful conclusion, it is important to remember the sacrifice of men like Corporal Jason Dunham, and to reflect on the fact that America’s uniformed services are full of men and women who would gladly give their lives for their comrades, as well as for every man, woman, and child at home.

America’s armed forces are made up entirely of volunteers who knew the risks when they joined, and who willingly embrace those risks, their accompanying responsibilities, every day, both to protect their homeland and for the greater good of accomplishing their varying missions throughout the world.

So, in remembrance of Jason Dunham, and all of the other brave men and women we have lost in this and other conflicts, take a moment to thank a friend, family member, or total stranger who has served — or is serving — this country, for, while they will never seek the praise or thanks of their fellow man, all will appreciate the gratitude. It is the least that we can do to honor those who have kept us both safe and free for the past 230 years that America has stood strong — and it is largely because of men like Jason Dunham, both in this generation and in future ones, that we shall remain so, despite the attempts of our enemies to the contrary.

Back to the fateful day of April 14, 2004. At the time of the battle in question, Lance Corporal Mark Edward Dean, a close friend of Dunham’s, “didn’t recognize the wounded Marine being loaded into the back of his Humvee. Blood from shrapnel wounds in the Marine’s head and neck had covered his face. Then Lance Cpl. Dean spotted the tattoo on his chest — an Ace of Spades and a skull — and realized he was looking at one of his closest friends, Cpl. Dunham. A volunteer firefighter back home in Owasso, Okla., Lance Cpl. Dean says he knew from his experience with car wrecks that his friend had a better chance of surviving if he stayed calm.”

“You’re going to be all right,” Lance Cpl. Dean recalled saying to Dunham as the Humvee raced against the inevitability of time and mortal wounds, on a doomed quest to save the life of a brave Marine whose selfless act had just saved the lives of his comrades.

“We’re going to get you home.”

The situation was eerily familiar to Dean, who recalled Dunham’s words to him and their comrades while on a trip to Las Vegas shortly before leaving the US for Iraq, when Dunham told them that he was planning to extend his enlistment and stay in Iraq for the battalion’s entire tour. “You’re crazy for extending,” Lance Cpl. Dean said. “Why?”

Cpl. Dunham responded: “I want to make sure everyone makes it home alive. I want to be sure you go home to your wife alive.”

And he did just that. Mission accomplished, Corporal Dunham. Semper Fidelis.