For a Marine, answering the call of duty is to place others before self, and to defend the values of the United States no matter the cost. Oftentimes, the sacrifices involved are immeasurable – servicemen and women put their lives on the line for the greater good. One such example of heroic selflessness is Cpl. Dunham.
Dunham, a squad leader in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, chose to extend his enlistment so he could stay with his squad throughout its tour in the war zone. It was a decision that proved fatal.
On April 14, 2004, Dunham was in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, leading a 14-man foot patrol on a reconnaissance mission when radio reports came in that a roadside bomb had exploded nearby where another group of Marines were scouting. As soon as the explosive went off, insurgents swarmed the area, surrounding the Marines.
Hearing gunfire, Dunham and his squad rushed over to help suppress the attack. As they neared the area, they heard the whizzing sound above of an RPG narrowly missing their convoy. Dunham instructed his Marines to leave the vehicles behind and split up. He led a team a few blocks south of the immediate ambush site and ordered his squad to block seven vehicles attempting to leave. Dunham began inspecting the vehicles, one by one.
Suddenly, the driver of a run-down Toyota Land Cruiser burst out of the car door, and grabbed Dunham by the neck. Dunham fought the enemy hand-to-hand; two Marines saw their squad leader struggling, and moved in to help. Dunham noticed that the enemy fighter had a grenade in his hand, and ordered his Marines to move back as he wrestled the insurgent to the ground. As the fighting continued, Dunham saw what the other two did not – the insurgent was holding a grenade in his hand. He screamed a warning to his Marines: “No, no, no – watch his hand!”
Without hesitating Dunham took off his Kevlar helmet, covered the grenade with it, and threw himself on top to smother the blast.
Pfc. Kelly Miller, one of the two Marines who was saved by Dunham’s quick and selfless act, later told author Michael Phillips: “Cpl. Dunham was in the middle of the explosion. If it was not for him, none of us would be here. He took the impact of the explosion.”
The hard, molded mesh that was Dunham’s Kevlar helmet was scattered all around the site of the explosion – an image that serves as a reminder of his bravery on that day.
On Jan. 11, 2007, Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration of the United States. He is the second serviceman and the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror.