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Jason L. Dunham

U.S. Marine Corps / Medal of Honor

Marine used his helmet
to smother hand grenade, killing him but saving others

Insurgents had just ambushed a Marine convoy near Karabilah, Iraq, on April 14, 2004, and Cpl. Jason Dunham’s squad was searching a line of vehicles fleeing the area.

As Dunham approached a white Toyota Land Cruiser, the driver leaped from the truck and wrestled with Dunham. A moment later, an explosion ripped through the air, wounding Dunham and two other Marines of 2nd squad, 4th Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

When Kilo’s commander, Capt. Trent Gibson, arrived at the scene a few minutes later, he found pieces of Dunham’s helmet strewn across the street. But he didn’t know the full story until the next day.

Lance Cpl. Jason Sanders — the fourth Marine near the explosion — told Gibson about a conversation a couple of weeks earlier: Several Marines had been talking about what they would do if a grenade landed near them. Dunham figured he could cover the grenade with his helmet to absorb the blast.

No way, his platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Brian Robinson, said. It couldn’t be done fast enough.

Time me, Dunham said. In about a second, he scooped the helmet from his head and slammed it onto the ground.

Gibson now understood why the explosion shredded the helmet: Dunham had smothered the blast.

“He always looked after others before he looked after himself,” Gibson says. “So that was a very natural thing for him to do, to cover up that grenade in order to protect the Marines around him. He was the kind of guy you’d want to have in charge of your son. He was a man of character, and he led not by intimidation but by example.”

Dunham died on April 22, 2004, at Bethesda Naval Medical Hospital in Maryland. He is credited with saving the lives of two Marines.

“One of those Marines is now the proud father of a 3-year-old girl,” Gibson says. “It’s been a gift that keeps on giving, not only in creating more lives but in providing an example of selflessness for Marines now and God knows how many Marines in the future.

“Through his story, they can be inspired to be that kind of person.”

Read about the other Medal of Honor recipients

Brian Mockenhaupt is a Detroit-based writer who is an Alicia Patterson fellow reporting on the physical and psychological effects of war. He served as a noncommissioned officer with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division from 2002 to 2005, spending 18 months in Iraq.

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Jason L. Dunham

Deb Dunham, mother of Medal of Honor recipient Jason Dunham, holds a portrait of her Marine son in uniform. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn)

  • Jason L. Dunham
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Jason L. Dunham

U.S. Marine Corps / Medal of Honor

Died April 22, 2004

Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, 22, was born in Scio, N.Y., on Nov. 10, 1981 — also the Marine Corps’ birthday. He joined the Marines in 2000 and deployed to Iraq in early 2004 as a squad leader with 4th Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Division, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force. He was wounded in Karabilah, Iraq, on April 14, 2004, and died April 22, 2004, at Bethesda Naval Medical Hospital in Maryland.

Saved the lives of two Marines when he smothered a hand grenade explosion with his helmet, absorbing most of the blast himself.

Iraq / Karabilah

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