WASHINGTON — President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor on Thursday to Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who on a dusty road in western Iraq in 2004 threw his Kevlar helmet and his body on an insurgent's grenade, saving the lives of two Marines while sacrificing his own.
Established by a joint resolution of Congress during the Civil War and presented 3,462 times, the Medal of Honor is awarded for gallantry in the face of enemy attack that is beyond the call of duty.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 13, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Medal of Honor: The headline on an article in Friday's Section A said President Bush had awarded the Medal of Honor to a Marine killed in Iraq. Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham died at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., of injuries sustained in Iraq.
Dunham, who was 22 when he died, is the first Marine to earn the medal since 1970 and the second service member, after Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, to receive it for bravery in Iraq.
Bush praised Dunham's heroism during a White House ceremony. "By his selflessness, Cpl. Dunham saved the lives of two of his men and showed the world what it means to be a Marine," he said.
Dunham's mother, Deb, with husband Dan looking on, fought back tears as Bush presented her with the citation.
On April 14, 2004, Dunham -- a member of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment based in Twentynine Palms -- was leading a 14-person foot patrol in the town of Karabila, near the Syrian border. Radio reports indicated that a nearby convoy of Marines had been hit by a roadside bomb. Dunham and his troops raced to the scene.
"Cpl. Dunham was assaulted by an insurgent who jumped out of a vehicle that was about to be searched," Bush said Thursday. "As Cpl. Dunham wrestled the man to the ground, the insurgent rolled out a grenade he had been hiding. Cpl. Dunham did not hesitate. He jumped on the grenade, using his helmet and body to absorb the blast. Although he survived the initial explosion, he did not survive his wounds."
Marine 2nd Lt. Brian Robinson told the Wall Street Journal in 2004 that only weeks before the incident he and Dunham had discussed theories on how to survive a hand-grenade attack. Dunham said he believed his Kevlar helmet would stop a blast, according to Robinson.
In a letter recommending Dunham for the Medal of Honor, Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, the battalion commander, wrote that the Marine "clearly understood the situation and attempted to block the blast of the grenade from his squad members."
"His personal action was far beyond the call of duty and saved the lives of his fellow Marines," Lopez wrote.
Unconscious and suffering irreversible brain damage due to shrapnel, Dunham was transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany and then to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
His parents -- his mother is a home-economics teacher and his father a factory worker in Scio, N.Y. -- were at his bedside when he died eight days after the attack. They were grateful to a doctor in Iraq who had held their son's hand as he lay in a field hospital, believing that the gesture of kindness kept him alive long enough for them to reach him. "That's a gift to us," Dan Dunham has said.
The Marines have stepped in to serve as a second family to the Dunhams, Bush said Thursday.
"On special days, like Christmas or Mother's Day or her birthday, Deb has learned the day will not pass without one of Jason's fellow Marines calling to check on her," he said. "With this medal we ask the God who commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves to wrap his arms around the family of Cpl. Jason Dunham, a Marine who is not here today because he lived that commandment to the fullest."