A new documentary has been made to chronicle the story about what happened to a Marine unit in the streets of Husaybah, Iraq on April 14, 2004 and what one of those Marines, Cpl. Jason Dunham, did that day. The documentary is a powerful remembrance of Dunham that unfolds with interviews of the Marines who were there with him that day. The documentary is called “The Gift.”
Here is the backstory to what happened that day. Cpl. Dunham was leading his squad in an effort to find fighters who had launched an attack on their battalion commander’s convoy. They had stopped a line of cars and were conducting a methodical search of each. Dunham’s instincts were triggered by something about the third car in the line. He went directly to that car and immediately saw AK-47s and RPGs in the back seat. The driver of the car suddenly jumped out and attacked Dunham. It happened so fast that the man was on him before he could fire on him. They were in a hand to hand struggle.
A couple of Dunham’s Marines rushed forward to help, but they heard Dunham shouting, “No, no, no! Watch his hands!”
At that moment the man let go of a grenade and the pin flew away and the grenade fell nearby. Without hesitation, Dunham took his kevlar helmet and covered the grenade with it and his body. The grenade went off and lifted him off the ground. His helmet and body absorbed the majority of the blast. Though he was severely wounded by the blast, he had saved the lives of his fellow Marines as a result of that unselfish act of heroism. His wounds would prove to be overwhelming and he died some eight days later on April 22, 2004.
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Because of Dunham’s selfless action that day, he became the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor since Vietnam. A U.S. Navy, Arleigh-Burke class destroyer has been named in his honor. It is the USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109). The ship’s motto is, “Always Faithful, Always Strong.”
There is a case proudly displaying Cpl. Dunham’s dress blue uniform on the ship’s quarterdeck. Dunham’s memory is also honored now during the final test of Marine Corps boot camp called, “The Crucible.” When this event is done toward the end of boot camp at both Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune, Cpl. Dunham’s Medal of Honor citation is read outloud to the recruits to both honor him and to inspire those new Marines with an example of the highest ideals of the Marine Corps brotherhood.
The interviews in this documentary are up-close-and-personal accounts from the individual Marines who served with Cpl. Dunham. They are raw and real. They reveal the love each of these men had for Cpl. Dunham. They also reveal the soul-deep sorrow they live with to this day. To be sure, there is a great deal of what is known as “survival guilt” in them too. They may wish that they could have prevented what happened, or that they would have died instead of him. But you can see that they are also profoundly proud of having known him.
These feelings are all too familiar to those who have been in combat and experienced the loss of a brother/sister in battle. They are normal feelings. They are, in many ways, unavoidable feelings. And they stay with you for a long time. Master Gunnery Sergeant, Adam Walker may express these feelings best when he says, “What we have has been given to us. What we do with what has been given is how we honor those who gave.”
Amen to that!
It is very clear that, to his brother Marines, Cpl. Jason Dunham was a good friend and a great Marine.
The Veteran Site honors the memory and the selfless courage that Cpl. Jason Dunham showed that day in the streets of Husaybah, Iraq. His actions that day reveal both his character and the depth of the love he had for his fellow Marines. We send our condolences to his family and promise them and his Marine brothers that we will never forget him.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.