A legacy of valor


During one of his stints as an embedded reporter with Lima Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips tumbled to the story of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham (photo above by Mark Edward Dean). In 2004 the Journal published Phillips’s riveting account of Corporal Dunham’s story: “In combat, Marine put theory to test, comrades believe.” Phillips subsequently expanded the Journal story into The Gift of Valor, published in paperback last year.


On Thursday President Bush will present the parents of Cpl. Dunham with the Medal of Honor. President Bush announced the award at the opening of the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico this past November. In the photo above (taken by Phillips), Major Trent Gibson comforted Cpl. Dunham’s mother Deb at the museum after the news. Phillips reported the announcement of the award at the time:

“As far back as boot camp, his superiors spotted the quality that would mark this young American as an outstanding Marine: His willingness to put the needs of others before his own,” Mr. Bush said. “As long as we have Marines like Cpl. Dunham, America will never fear for its liberty.”

On patrol on April 14, 2004, Cpl. Dunham found himself engaged in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent near the Syrian border. When his attacker dropped a live hand grenade, the Marine made the split-second decision to cover the weapon with his own helmet, shielding two of his men from its full explosive force.

The other Marines staggered away from the blast, injured but alive. Cpl. Dunham suffered deep shrapnel wounds to the brain. He survived eight days in a coma, only to die with his parents at his bedside. He was 22 years old.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” said Cpl. William Hampton, one of the Marines fighting beside Cpl. Dunham when the grenade exploded. The explosion left Cpl. Hampton, a 24-year-old from Woodinville, Wash., peppered with shrapnel. “I see my arms, I see my leg. I’m always reminded of it.”

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Phillips updates the story with a heart-rending profile of the other Marine whose life Cpl. Dunham saved, Cpl. Kelly Miller: “How do you repay a hero’s sacrifice?” (I’m afraid that a subscription may be required — go buy today’s Journal). Cpl. Miller, though comforted, encouraged and “adopted” by Deb Dunham, is tortured by survivor’s guilt. Phillips’s superb story should serve as a reminder that Cpl. Dunham’s sacrifice — as that of so many others — is one that we will all have to redeem.


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