Putting The Pieces In Their Place; Cpl. Dunham's Legacy Lives On
(July 21, 2009)
|WASHINGTON, D.C (MCN - 7/15/2009) -- “It all started because the lawnmower ran
out of gas,” said Maj. Trent A. Gibson, the executive officer of 2nd Battalion,
7th Marine Regiment, with a chuckle. “If the lawnmower hadn't run out of gas, I
would have never heard the phone ring.” |
The voice he heard upon answering was that of a Marine recruiter, explaining
what the Marine Corps had to offer the young man from Piedmont, Okla. Neither
could imagine the future that Gibson would experience as he enlisted to become
one of the few, the proud and the brave.
|National Museum Of The
Marine Corps, Quantico, VA.- For the first time in more
than five years, Sgt. Mark Dean, one of Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Jason
Dunham's close friends, and Maj. Trent A. Gibson, Dunham's former company
commander, carefully sort out the pieces of the Kevlar helmet Dunham used to
help absorb the blast of a grenade in the streets of Iraq in 2004. The pair
delivered the helmet to the National Museum of the Marine Corps July 9, 2009 to be
displayed in the coming years. Photo by USMC Pvt. Michael T. Gams
After twenty-two years as one of the few, Gibson experienced true pride in
having served among the undeniably brave.|
In the dangerous city of Karabilah, Iraq on April 14, 2004, Gibson, then a
captain and the commander of Company K, 3rd Bn,, 7th Marines, went on patrol
with his men of 2nd Squad, 4th Platoon.
The carefully chosen squad leader for 2nd Squad was a 22-year-old corporal from
the small town of Scio, N.Y., by the name of Jason Dunham.
“Cpl. Dunham was the quintessential Marine,” Gibson said. “He was the
square-jawed, muscular all-American man you envision when someone says Marine.
He had the character to back up his looks, too. There wasn't a mean bone in his
He earned respect from his men by example, not by intimidation, Gibson said of
his leadership style.
“Cpl. Dunham was the kind of guy you would want your daughter to bring home,” he
During the patrol, their battalion commander's convoy was ambushed nearby.
Dunham led his Marines south of the ambushed convoy when vehicles began to flee
the scene. As the Marines prepared to stop the vehicles, an Iraqi clad in black
jumped from a white sport utility vehicle and attempted to choke Dunham. During
the scuffle that ensued, the Iraqi dropped a hand grenade.
Cpl. Dunham didn't falter.
In his last conscious act he threw his Kevlar helmet — then himself — on the
grenade, absorbing the blast and saving the lives of his fellow Marines who were
Corporal Jason Dunham in Iraq, 2004
When the smoke cleared, Dunham lay unconscious on the hard dirt road. His Kevlar
ripped into two major pieces and countless shreds by the explosion. |
When Gibson arrived on scene, he inspected the small cache
of weapons retrieved from the vehicles and noticed a piece
of Dunham's Kevlar leaning against the wall of a nearby
building. Once he realized what exactly he had found, he and
the Marines in the area scoured the street for any scraps of
the Kevlar they could find.
The family of U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham
received the Medal of Honor from President Bush at
the White House, Jan. 11, 2007. The following
day he was posthumously inducted into the Pentagon
Hall of Heroes.
Defense Dept. photo by William D.
Five years have passed since Dunham's selfless sacrifice to save the lives of
his fellow Marines earned him the Medal of Honor and a Navy destroyer bearing
his name. |
For five years the pieces of Dunham's Kevlar were stored within the 7th Marine
Regiment--until Gibson began collaborating with Deb and Dan Dunham, Cpl.
Dunham's parents, on the proper way to preserve the history of the helmet.
The three of them had to decide either to donate the helmet to the National
Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., to display the helmet on the
quarterdeck of the USS Jason Dunham along
|with his dress
blue uniform, seal the entire thing in the
destroyer's mast or simply to bury it. |
“At first we were a little uneasy about the notion of displaying it, due to the
graphic nature of the object,” Gibson said. “But I mainly didn't want the
significance of the helmet to become lost. It isn't just Marine Corps property;
it was spiritually transformed to a part of the Marine Corps' living history.”|
Eventually they concluded the best way to ensure the legacy of the Kevlar and
the history it represents was to donate most of the helmet to the museum, but to
save a single shred to be forever sealed in the mast of the ship that bears
Gibson contacted Lin Ezell, the director of the National Museum of the Marine
Corps, and coordinated to deliver the helmet to the museum during the same
weekend the ship's Mast-Stepping ceremony was being held.
As Gibson made his way from the Combat Center to the Marine Corps Museum, he
carried with him a simple, locked black case with the combination 0-4-2 which
represented Cpl. Dunham's radio call sign of Kilo 4-2.
The case, which was never out of Gibson's sight, attracted the attention of
curious passengers throughout the trip. Gibson left each inquiring commuter with
a new memory as he told them the story of what the simple black case held.
Within the first hour of arriving in Washington, D.C. July 9, Gibson made his
way to the Marine Corps War Memorial and spent more than an hour sitting on the
steps carefully examining the fragments of Dunham's helmet—pieces he helped
collect from the streets of Karabilah.
After ensuring all the pieces were accounted for, he changed into his desert
utility uniform and drove to Marine Corps Base Quantico to pick up Sgt. Mark
Dean, one of Cpl. Dunham's close friends and an Owasso, Okla., native, and the
pair made the final leg of the journey to the museum together.
As they entered, they were greeted by Ezell and Owen Conner, the uniforms
curator at the museum, and escorted upstairs to complete the exchange. Once
upstairs, Gibson recounted the story and shared with the small audience the
importance the helmet carried with it.
Once Gibson showed what each piece was and how the puzzle fit together, Gibson
and Dean deliberated on which piece of the helmet would be appropriate to bring
to the USS Jason Dunham to be forever capsulated in the destroyer's mast.
After ensuring the helmet was in competent hands, the history would be displayed
for generations to come, and an appropriate piece had been set aside, the group
went to the museum's “Tun Tavern” and shared a toast.
“It's been a while,” Dean said emotionally.
“It's been five damn years,” Gibson replied. “Five damn years.”
After their glasses were drained and their stories shared, Gibson and Dean
parted ways once again with promises of reunions to come. They parted with the
Kevlar that Cpl. Jason Dunham used to selflessly save his fellow Marines' lives
— but not with Dunham. He will live with them forever in spirit and history.
By Pvt. Michael T. Gams
MCAGCC Public Affairs
Reprinted from Marine Corps News
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