The gift of valor revisited

Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips discovered the story of Marine Corporal Jason Dunham during one of his four embeddings with Third Battalion, Seventh Marines in Iraq. A few weeks after Dunham’s death in 2004, Michael learned that Corporal Dunham had been attacked by a black-clad Iraqi who leaped out of a car and grabbed him around the neck. As they fought hand to hand, the Iraqi dropped a hand grenade. Corporal Dunham instantaneously made the decision to place his helmet and body over the grenade to shield his colleagues from the blast. Corporal Dunham saved his colleagues, but eight days later he died as a result of injuries sustained in the blast.

Michael first reconstructed the events and told the story in the 2004 Wall Street Journal article “In combat, Marine put theory to test, comrades believe” (behind the Journal’s subscription paywall but accessible via Google). He continued to research the story to write The Gift of Valor: A War Story, published the following year. Tom Miller’s review of the book recognized its merits.

At the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in late 2006 President Bush announced that Corporal Dunham was to receive the Medal of Honor; Corporal Dunham’s Medal of Honor was awarded at a White House ceremony in 2007. Corporal Dunham thus became the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Marine Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter replayed Corporal Dunham’s valor in Afghanistan in 2010. As Carpenter stood guard with his buddy on a rooftop at Patrol Base Dakota in Marja, an attacker threw a grenade onto the roof; “without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved toward the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast,” as his Medal of Honor citation puts it. “When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him, but saving the life of his fellow Marine.”

His “fellow Marine” is Corporal Nicholas Eufrazio; both Carpenter and Eufrazio sustained horrendous injuries in the blast. By contrast with Corporal Dunham, however, Corporal Carpenter miraculously survived his injuries, though it took two-and-a-half years in the hospital and 40 surgeries.

On Thursday Carpenter received the Medal of Honor from President Obama at the White House. I watched the ceremony live on television and was equally humbled and moved by Carpenter’s story. He is an inspiration. The president, I’m sorry to say, not so much, but he’s the only president we’ve got and he holds the privilege of conferring recognition on better men than he. The video of the ceremony is below.

Corporal Carpenter spoke to the media after the ceremony. A video of his remarks is posted here. USA Today has more here and a seven-minute video telling the story through the eyes of his family and his letters is posted here. It is eight minutes long and also worth your time.

Via Daniel Halper/Weekly Standard (with transcript of the ceremony).

NOTE: I have slightly revised this post to clarify what I meant to say and believe to be the case: that Corporal Dunham was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.


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