By Sgt. Sara Wood, American Forces Press ServiceJanuary 23, 2007
WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2007 - The second servicemember to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in the Iraq war was inducted into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes today.
Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham's name was added to the more than 3,000 engraved on the wall in the Defense Department's shrine to those who have been awarded the nation's highest honor. President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Dunham's family yesterday at the White House.
Dunham earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in Iraq on April 14, 2004, when he threw himself on top of a live grenade to save the lives of his fellow Marines. He died of his injuries eight days later at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.
"There are rare heroes who affirmatively make the decision to do an extraordinary thing and give up their lives for others," Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said at the induction ceremony. "That's the decision that Jason made in April 2004. That's the reason we gather here today, to stand in awe of that choice he made and to pay tribute to that sacrifice."
Heroes like Dunham, and others who have earned the Medal of Honor, share the same fundamental character and sense of responsibility for others, England noted. The Medal of Honor is surrounded by grandeur, he said, but at the end of the day, it is about the character of those who have received it. The character of these heroes is a reflection of people who have had the greatest effect on them, he added.
"This nation is eternally grateful to Jason and eternally grateful to his family," England said.
Dunham's mother, Deb, and father, Dan, were at the ceremony, along with his two brothers and sister. After the unveiling of the plaque bearing Dunham's name, Deb talked about the void left in their lives when Jason died. She and her family have worked through the pain, she said, and have had support from all sides.
"We've acquired a Marine family, and it's huge, and they're loving, and they're strong, and they're gentle, and they're kind, and they're ever so supportive," she said. "We gave them a young man who couldn't remember to take out the garbage, who tormented with practical jokes that were fun and never (malicious), and the Marines polished him. They made him into a phenomenal person."
Deb thanked all of Dunham's fellow Marines for their service and all those who have rallied behind the family since their loss.
"As much as this has hurt, we've got so many gifts -- from the public, cards and phone calls, the gift of a thousand more sons then we could ever begin to remember, and the gift of having each other," she said. "Jason gave a gift of love, and I'm so proud of him."
Marine Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, lauded Dunham's service. The Hall of Heroes may be a small place, he said, but it holds a vast accounting of all that is best in America. Dunham deserves to join the ranks of those honored there, Conway said.
"When he placed his helmet and then his body on that enemy grenade, he did so willingly; he did it bravely and, I'm convinced, did it solely to prevent the deaths of those Marines around him," he said. "He realized the danger, and he went out to meet it."
Dunham's deeds and valor will live on after him and inspire future generations, England said. Those who have earned the Medal of Honor are caretakers of a medal that many deserve, he said.
"Jason and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice remind us of the price of freedom," England said. "It's a price that is periodically required to be paid in blood and suffering and courage, and in this new war on terror, it's a price that has been paid -- here in the Pentagon, in New York, in Pennsylvania, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and wherever the brave men and women who wear the cloth of our nation serve."