One day, as Marine Corporal Jason Dunham and his buddies swapped talk in their barracks in Iraq, the conversation turned to the best way to survive a hand grenade attack. The corporal suggested covering a grenade with a Kevlar helmet. “I’ll bet a Kevlar would stop it,” he said.
Dunham, raised in the small town of Scio, New York, was a 22-year-old with a natural gift for leadership. He’d been a star athlete, setting a Scio Central School baseball record for highest batting average. Now a rifle squad leader, he’d extended his enlistment to stay with his comrades in Iraq.
On April 14, 2004, Dunham was on his way to help a Marine convoy that had been ambushed in western Iraq when an insurgent leaped from a car and attacked him. As two Marines rushed to help wrestle the man to the ground, they heard Dunham yell, “No, no, no – watch his hand!” Before they realized what was happening, Dunham threw his helmet and his own body over a live enemy grenade.
The sacrifice helped contain the blast but left Dunham mortally wounded. He died eight days later at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
In January 2007 President George W. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Jason Dunham. “Corporal Dunham saved the lives of two of his men, and showed the world what it means to be a Marine,” the president said. He was the first Marine to earn the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq.
Journalist Michael Phillips, author of The Gift of Valor, wrote that shortly before leaving for the Persian Gulf, Dunham told friends of his plans to extend his enlistment. “You’re crazy for extending,” a fellow Marine had said. “Why?”
“I want to make sure everyone makes it home alive,” Jason Dunham answered.