BATH — The christening of DDG 109 on Saturday reflected two emotional experiences: pride and joy from the family and friends of Cpl. Jason Dunham as the new ship was delivered by Bath Iron Works in his name, and sadness that the sacrifice for which the young man was being honored was one that cost him his life.
Dunham, who grew up in New York and joined the Marine Corps in 2000, was mortally wounded while on patrol in Karabilah, Iraq, on April 14, 2004, at the age of 22. Having stopped seven Iraqi vehicles for a weapons search, Dunham was attacked by an insurgent who leapt out of one vehicle. Wrestling the insurgent to the ground, Dunham saw his opponent release a grenade and alerted his fellow Marines of the danger. Dunham then covered the grenade with his helmet and body, causing him to bear the explosion’s brunt and shield his team members.
While he saved the lives of at least two marines, Dunham himself was severely wounded.
Since his injuries could not be properly treated in Iraq or at a large German hospital, Dunham was taken to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Although his doctors fought to save him, Dunham died of his wounds eight days after receiving them. His parents and John Estrada, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, were at his bedside.
“As a Marine Jason was a compassionate leader,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of several speakers during the christening. “One who never expected his troops to do anything that he would not do. One who always took on the toughest job for himself.”
Speaking of the gift of valor that Dunham gave to the Marines he saved, Collins said to Dunham’s parents, “it was a gift that you helped to create, the character that you helped to forge. You have suffered an incomprehensible loss. It is my deepest hope that your hearts are strengthened by the prayers of a grateful nation.”
Soon before his death Dunham received the Purple Heart by Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee, who served as principal speaker during Saturday’s christening.
“The Gift of Valor: A War Story” tells Dunham’s heroic tale. It was written by Wall Street Journal staff writer Michael Phillips, who had been assigned to Dunham’s Kilo Company.
Dunham’s sacrifice also made him the first person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, according to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
“I can’t imagine … how much you miss him,” Mabus said to Dunham’s family. “But having this ship, the places it will go, the deeds it will do, the thousands who will serve on it, will serve, I hope, to keep Jason’s character and legacy with us for decades to come.”
Other speakers included U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both D-Maine, U.S. Rep. Eric Massa, D-New York, Navy Rear Admiral Bill Landay and BIW President Jeff Geiger.
DDG 108 is the 32nd vessel of the Arleigh Burke class to be built at BIW since the shipyard won a contract for the first ship of the line in 1985. Fabrication began in December 2005, and the keel was laid in April 2008. The vessel will undergo builder’s trials next March and be delivered to the Navy in April.
The ship displaces 9,200 tons at full load, is 509.5 feet in length with a 66.5-foot beam and travels at 30-plus knots. Building a DDG vessel takes 6,200 tons of steel, 254 miles of cable, 48 miles of pipe, 69,000 gallons of paint, 8,000 valves, more than 3,000 drawings and the efforts of more than 5,000 workers.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Streamers fly at the christening Aug. 1 of the U.S.S. Jason Dunham, named for a Marine who gave his life to save other Marines during a mission in Iraq in 2004. The vessel, DDG 109, is the latest ship to roll out of Bath Iron Works.