QUANTICO, Va. –
President Bush said yesterday that he would present the
Medal of Honor to a Marine who died when he threw himself
on a grenade in Iraq and saved the lives of two comrades.
The medal will be given posthumously to Cpl. Jason
Dunham of Scio, N.Y., who died on April 22, 2004, of
wounds he suffered eight days earlier when his patrol was
ambushed near the Syrian border.
“He and his men stopped a convoy of cars that were
trying to make an escape. As he moved to search one of the
vehicles, an insurgent jumped out and grabbed the corporal
by the throat,” Bush said.
combat with the insurgent, Dunham called out to his fellow
Marines: “No, no, no. Watch his hand!”
“Moments later, an enemy grenade rolled out,” Bush
said. “Cpl. Dunham did not hesitate. He jumped on the
grenade to protect his fellow Marines. He used his helmet
and his body to absorb the blast.”
The president used the dedication of the National
Museum of the Marine Corps to announce that Dunham, who
was serving with the 7th Marines, a unit of the 1st Marine
Division, but stationed at Twentynine Palms, would be the
first Marine and only the second service member to receive
the nation's highest decoration for valor for actions in
The Marine Corps always has emphasized its heritage.
From the day would-be Marines enter boot camp or officer
candidate school, they are drilled in the Corps' history
Bush noted that tradition in helping the Corps dedicate
a visually stirring edifice that will dramatically present
its legacy to past, current and future generations of
Marines and the public.
“The history of the Corps is as important to each
Marine as his rifle,” he said.
“For too long, the only people to have direct
experience of the Marine Corps have been the Marines
themselves, and the enemy who's made the mistake of taking
them on,” he said. “The National Museum of the Marine
Corps fixes this problem.”
In announcing Dunham's pending award, the president
noted that he would have been 25 years old yesterday,
which was the Marine Corps' 231st birthday.
“As long as we have Marines like Cpl. Dunham, America
will never fear for her liberty. And as long as we have
this fine museum, America will never forget their
sacrifice,” the president said to applause from the
audience of nearly 15,000, many of them former Marines who
fought in the conflicts honored in the museum.
The central structure of the museum is a tilted glass
and steel pyramid topped by a slated steel column rising
210 feet. The designers said the shape was inspired by Joe
Rosental's iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo
Jima, the image perhaps most commonly associated with the
That dramatic feature is partly surrounded by a
circular two-story white stone building that holds most of
the historic displays.
The museum crowns a wooded hill overlooking Marine
Corps Base Quantico, one of the Marines' oldest posts and
known as the “Crossroads of the Corps.” The
118,000-square-foot, $100-million structure is the result
of a 37-year effort by the Marine Corps Heritage
Foundation, with the support of Congress and the Marine
Corps, which supplied $40 million and will fund the
The museum displays more than 1,000 artifacts and more
than 1,800 photographs, letters and documents. The
artifacts range from a copy of the original Purple Heart
medal designed by George Washington – a white lace
necklace with a purple emblem stitched with the word
“merit” – to weapons, including swords, cannon and tanks.
But the structure is only the first phase of a plan
that will expand the museum building to 200,000 square
feet and develop a memorial park and possibly other
attractions on the 135-acre site. The foundation expects
it will need to raise at least another $70 million to pay
for the planned additions.
Museum director Lin Ezell said that what sets the
facility apart from the many similar attractions in the
Washington area is “the unique attention to detail and the
ability to capture the faces of individual Marines.”
“The museum is not about the giants of the Marine
Corps, not about the epic battles,” Ezell said, although
those are displayed. Instead, she said, you see a machine
gunner at Guadalcanal, a weary rifleman in Vietnam.
“These are the faces of every Marine.”