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Virtus Hero - November of 2010


Jason Dunham

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004. Corporal Dunham's squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander's convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Navy missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham arrives in Port Everglades

Aboard the USS Jason Dunham, a massive missile destroyer flanked with torpedoes and Sea Hawk helicopters, the sailors tell the story of the ship's namesake with somber pride.

Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, a small town soldier from Scio, N.Y., threw his body over a hand grenade tossed by an Iraqi insurgent, saving the lives of two fellow Marines. He was 22.

So when the $1.1 billion destroyer, named in Dunham's honor docked in Port Everglades on Friday, the sailors on deck had Dunham's selfless spirit in mind.

Together, the crew of 380 sailors plan on giving back to several South Florida charities, all part of a week of events leading up to the ship's official commissioning ceremony on Nov. 13.

``He's a hero,'' said Shola Whitworth, a communications officer on the ship, who hails from Fort Lauderdale. ``There's a deep felt sense of pride and honor that we carry knowing that we're a part of this ship, and we can pay homage to his life by giving back to the community.''

The Dunham crew's South Florida tour of duty includes bedside visits to patients at Chris Everett Children's Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, packing boxes of food at the Feeding South Florida warehouse in Pembroke Pines, building a Habitat for Humanity home in Boyton Beach and speaking to children at three Broward elementary schools.

There are also events with the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Soccer Club soccer team to pay homage to Dunham's love of sports.


  Community service has been a staple of the Dunham crew ever since the sailors received their marching orders to report to Bath, Maine, where the ship was being built. Over the past year they amassed more than 3,000 community service hours and many in the crew speak eagerly of doing more service to continue Dunham's legacy.

``It took him a split second to make that decision, and in that split second he decided to put others before himself,'' said the ship's Commander Scott Sciretta. ``It's why for us, it's so important to value the gift of giving.''

Dunham died eight days after the explosion. Based on witness accounts, it is believed he tried to minimize the impact of the explosion by covering the grenade with his Kevlar helmet.

He was posthumously awarded the country's highest military citation, the Medal of Honor in 2006. The next year the military said it would name Missile Destroyer 109 in his memory.

More than 4,000 spectators are expected to gather at Port Everglades for the ship's official commissioning ceremony, though only those who requested a spot before Oct. 11 will be allowed into the ceremony.


  ``So many people hear his story and react to it in their own personal way,'' said Chuck Black, a Fort Lauderdale business owner and Navy veteran who chaired the commissioning committee. ``It's a heart wrenching, emotional story, but we are doing what we can to honor a true American hero.''

Dunham's mother, Deb Dunham, will be on hand at the ceremony to officially commission the ship, by instructing the crew to ``man our ship and bring her to life.''

Afterward, the destroyer will travel back to its home base in Norfolk, Va.

``It doesn't matter where we go, we're always going to carry him with us,'' Whitworth said. ``We may not have ever met him, but we feel like we know him. He is a hero we can all look up to.''

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