Cpl Jason Dunham
Rank and organization: Corporal, 4th
Platoon, Co. K, 3rd
Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st
U.S. Marine Corps.
Place and date: Karabilah, Iraq, 14 April 2004.
Entered service at: Scio, NY. Born: 10 November 1981, Scio, New York.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, 1st 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.
Cpl. Dunham, squad leader K Co, 3/7, was in the town of Karabilah, leading a 14-man foot patrol to scout sites for a new base, when radio reports came pouring in about a roadside bomb hitting another group of Marines not far away.
Insurgents, the reports said, had ambushed a convoy that included the battalion commander, 40-year-old Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, of Chicago. One rifle shot penetrated the rear of the commander's Humvee, hitting him in the back, Lt. Col. Lopez says. His translator and bodyguard, LCpl. Akram Falah, 23, of Anaheim, Calif., had taken a bullet to the bicep, severing an artery, according to medical reports filed later.
Cpl. Dunham's patrol jumped aboard some Humvees and raced toward the convoy. Near the double-arched gateway of the town of Husaybah, they heard the distinctive whizzing sound of a rocket-propelled grenade overhead. They left their vehicles and split into two teams to hunt for the shooters, according to interviews with two men who were there and written reports from two others.
Around 12:15 p.m., Cpl. Dunham's team came to an intersection and saw a line of seven Iraqi vehicles along a dirt alleyway, according to Staff Sgt. Ferguson and others there. At SSgt. Ferguson's instruction, they started checking the vehicles for weapons.
Cpl. Dunham approached a run-down white Toyota Land Cruiser. The driver, an Iraqi in a black track suit and loafers, immediately lunged out and grabbed the corporal by the throat, according to men at the scene. Cpl. Dunham kneed the man in the chest, and the two tumbled to the ground.
Two other Marines rushed to the scene. Pfc. Kelly Miller, 21, of Eureka, Calif., ran from the passenger side of the vehicle and put a choke hold around the man's neck. But the Iraqi continued to struggle, according to a military report Pfc. Miller gave later. Lance Cpl. William B. Hampton, 22, of Woodinville, Wash., also ran to help.
A few yards away, LCpl. Jason Sanders, 21, a radio operator from McAlester, Okla., says he heard Cpl. Dunham yell a warning: "No, no, no — watch his hand!"
What was in the Iraqi's hand appears to have been a British-made "Mills Bomb" hand grenade. The Marines later found an unexploded Mills Bomb in the Toyota, along with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.
A Mills Bomb user pulls a ring pin out and squeezes the external lever — called the spoon — until he's ready to throw it. Then he releases the spoon, leaving the bomb armed. Typically, three to five seconds elapse between the time the spoon detaches and the grenade explodes. The Marines later found what they believe to have been the grenade's pin on the floor of the Toyota, suggesting that the Iraqi had the grenade in his hand — on a hair trigger — even as he wrestled with Cpl. Dunham.
None of the other Marines saw exactly what Cpl. Dunham did, or even saw the grenade. But they believe Cpl. Dunham spotted the grenade — prompting his warning cry — and, when it rolled loose, placed his helmet and body on top of it to protect his squadmates.
The scraps of Kevlar found later, scattered across the street, supported their conclusion. The grenade, they think, must have been inside the helmet when it exploded. His fellow Marines believe that Cpl. Dunham made an instantaneous decision to try out his theory that a helmet might blunt the grenade blast.
"I deeply believe that given the facts and evidence presented he clearly understood the situation and attempted to block the blast of the grenade from his squad members," Lt. Col. Lopez wrote in a May 13 letter recommending Cpl. Dunham for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military valor. "His personal action was far beyond the call of duty and saved the lives of his fellow Marines."
Recommendations for the Medal of Honor are rare. The Marines say they have no other candidates awaiting approval. Unlike other awards, the Medal of Honor must be approved by the president. The most recent act of heroism to earn the medal came 11 years ago, when two Army Delta Force soldiers gave their lives protecting a downed Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Somalia. (SFC Paul Smith has since been awarded the CMH - EB)
SSgt. Ferguson was crossing the street to help when the grenade exploded. He recalls feeling a hollow punch in his chest that reminded him of being close to the starting line when dragsters gun their engines. LCpl. Sanders, approaching the scene, was temporarily deafened, he says. He assumed all three Marines and the Iraqi must surely be dead.
In fact, the explosion left Cpl. Dunham unconscious and face down in his own blood, according to LCpl. Sanders. He says the Iraqi lay on his back, bleeding from his midsection.
The fight wasn't over, however. To LCpl. Sanders's surprise, the Iraqi got up and ran. LCpl. Sanders says he raised his rifle and fired 25 shots at the man's back, killing him.
The other two Marines were injured, but alive. LCpl. Hampton was spitting up blood and had shrapnel embedded in his left leg, knee, arm and face, according to a military transcript. Pfc. Miller's arms had been perforated by shrapnel. Yet both Marines struggled to their feet and staggered back toward the corner.
"Cpl. Dunham was in the middle of the explosion," Pfc. Miller told a Marine officer weeks later, after he and LCpl. Hampton were evacuated to the U.S. to convalesce. "If it was not for him, none of us would be here. He took the impact of the explosion."