|I had the honor of attending the commissioning ceremony for
the USS Jason Dunham in Port Everglades, Fla., recently.
Dunham received the Medal of Honor for his unselfish display
of heroism in Karabilah, Iraq on April 14, 2004. Rarely do
we consider history when going through life in the present
day. Even as I write this, America celebrates its newest
Medal of Honor recipient, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore A.
Giunta. It's important that we share the stories of these
great heroes. We should all cherish the opportunity to know
them all and allow their stories to be told. It's even more
of an honor to embrace the history of today for what it's
As Marines, we pride ourselves on our heritage and the
actions of those who came before us. We hear names like
Chesty Puller, John Lejeune, John Basilone, and Jason
Dunham, and our chests become inflated with pride knowing
that we share the same title, Marine, that these great
warriors earned. To witness the life of a brother I never
met by attending the ship's commissioning ceremony in his
name was indescribable.
lives on in the vessel sharing his namesake. The proof of
this resonated with me throughout the weekend. It began the
moment I stepped off the airplane. I overheard two baggage
handlers discussing plans for the weekend. One mentioned the
ship's commissioning the next day and how he wished he could
attend. The second wanted to know more.
“I overheard (Dunham's) parents talking the other day. He
was a Marine. I can't remember his name,” the baggage
“Cpl. Jason Dunham,” I interjected, chest as swollen as
Dunham's actions bring a sense of awe when you hear about
him. The 22-year-old man selflessly covered a grenade with
his body and Kevlar helmet to save the lives of those around
him. But it was my journey inside the Navy destroyer that
truly taught me who Dunham was.
Just walking onto the ship and seeing the crew walk around
busy with preparation of the next day's events was chilling.
With every turn, I saw Dunham's name forever stitched on the
shoulders of Navy uniforms. In the ship's mast, a single
shred of Dunham's Kevlar from his heroic act of bravery, and
his dog tags, replacing the customary good luck coin
normally placed beneath it; both now serving to protect the
destroyer and its crew.
Inside the Captains Mess, hangs Dunham's Dress Blues, with
his ribbon rack and the Medal of Honor draped around the
shoulders. On the wall, diagonal from the uniform hangs the
officer's coffee mugs and one specifically for his father,
with the word “Dad” proudly displayed.
The heart of the ship is the galley, aptly named “Jason's
Dugout.” A little known fact, at least to me, was Dunham's
love for baseball. He played baseball in high school and was
a fan of the New York Yankees. Hung in the galley are his
high school baseball bat, his jersey and his player stats
card. If you look at one of many photos of him in uniform,
you can see him wearing a Yankees baseball cap beneath his
Kevlar helmet. And hung on the left side of the wall is
another baseball jersey. The jersey belonged to Derek Jeter,
the Yankees shortstop. Once the Yankee organization heard of
Dunham's story, they were willing to give anything the
family wanted for the vessel, including the autographed
Two hand-drawn photos are also on display. One being of
Chesty Puller, and the other, of Jason Dunham hung side by
side on the same wall. It was enough to give me chills.
As I departed the vessel, I knew in my heart that it was
more than just a ship. As a teary-eyed mother, Deb Dunham,
addressed the crowd of thousands from the podium on the
ship's deck, and thanked both her personal and military
families before announcing, “Man our ship and bring her to
life,” I knew it was more than just a ship. As I witnessed
an author and his daughter snap photographs on the ship's
deck and throughout the passageways in remembrance, the same
author who told the story of Jason Dunham in the novel, “The
Gift of Valor,” Michael Phillips, I knew it was more than
just a ship. And as I shook the hand of Sgt. William
Hampton, a fellow Marine whose life was saved by Dunham's
action and looked at him and his family, I knew...
Cpl. Jason Lee Dunham, born November 10, 1982 in Scio, NY. A
man of strong spirit who joined the Marine Corps July 2000.
A Marine, who served proudly and willingly and performed a
tremendous act of valor April 14, 2004. A son, who died due
to his injuries with his parents at his bedside April 22,
2004. Cpl. Jason Lee Dunham was reborn November 13, 2010,
510 feet long, 66 feet high at his tallest beam with the
ability to move up to 30+ Knots. He serves, protects and
provides for more than 300 officers and sailors of his crew.
And I stand proudly, just as any other Marine, and salute
the man, knowing that his legacy will live on.
As we celebrate this month, Marines, with Marine Corps
birthday celebrations and Veterans Day, Thanksgiving meals
and the honor shown to another hero, let us continue to give
thanks to our fallen. To never forget about their deeds and
to relish this moment to experience history. I know that I