San Diego Union Tribune

November 11, 2006

Dedicated to history

Museum dedication includes Medal of Honor announcement


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.


During hand-to-hand 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 Iraq.

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 and tradition.

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 Marines.

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 operating costs.

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.”

 »Next Story»