BATH (AP) — In a solemn ceremony punctuated by talk of courage and valor, service and sacrifice, the mother of a Marine corporal on Saturday christened a warship honoring her son, who died after covering an exploding grenade to protect his comrades in Iraq.

After composing herself and taking a deep breath, Deb Dunham smashed a bottle a champagne over the bow of the 510-foot warship Jason Dunham, which towered over the large crowd.

Then she held the bottle aloft to the cheers of hundreds, including Marines who served with her son. She was joined by her husband, Dan Dunham, and their daughter Katelyn Dunham.

Retired Gen. Michael Hagee, a former Marine commandant who was with the Dunhams when their son died at Bethesda Naval Hospital days after the grenade explosion, said Jason Dunham gave the “gift of valor.” He said the warship will serve as a reminder that freedom “is paid for by the men and women who wear the cloth of this nation.”

“They are willing to give up everything that is important: love, marriage, children, family, friends,” Hagee said. “I can tell you I’ve always stood in awe of that.”
Among the spectators at the Bath Iron Works shipyard, a special place was reserved for those Marines who served with Dunham in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

Those included Dunham’s company commander, Maj. Trent Gibson, and others who were there on the day Dunham died, including Sgt. Bill Hampton and Cpl. Kelly Miller. Hampton and Miller were next to Dunham when the grenade detonated, and their lives were saved by his action.

Hagee said Dunham, from Scio, N.Y., seemed destined to be a Marine: He reminded those in the audience that Dunham’s birthday was the same as that of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Dunham was selected to serve as a squad commander on his first tour in Iraq, and he chose to extend his enlistment so he could serve the entire tour with his Marines. He vowed to bring his squad home alive, and the rest of them did make it home.

Dunham won the Medal of Honor for his actions on April 14, 2004, as his squad sought to engage insurgents after a convoy was ambushed.

While searching vehicles, the driver of a Toyota Land Cruiser jumped out and attacked him. They fell to the ground, where the fight continued. Dunham told his fellow Marines, “No, no, no! Watch his hand!” as the attacker pulled out a grenade.

Dunham covered the exploding grenade with his body and his helmet. He died eight days later at age 22.

Hampton and Miller suffered burns and shrapnel wounds but recovered.

Before Saturday’s ceremony, Deb Dunham said she liked the idea that it will be a guided-missile destroyer that carries her son’s name. As a Marine, Jason Dunham was a warrior, and destroyers are built to fight.

“It’s an honor Jason would really get a kick out of,” his mother said.

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