Medal of honor awarded

Bush lauds slain Marine at event to open museum

November 11, 2006|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- On what would have been the 25th birthday of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, President Bush said yesterday that the Marine, who died from wounds suffered in Iraq, would be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest decoration for valor.

Dunham, from Scio, N.Y., was 22 years old when he died in April 2004, after using his body and helmet to save two fellow Marines from an insurgent's grenade.

Bush recounted Dunham's exploit during a ceremony marking the opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Va., on the 231st anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps

"He and his men stopped a convoy of cars that were trying to make an escape," said Bush. "As he moved to search one of the vehicles, an insurgent jumped out and grabbed the corporal by the throat."

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. "Corporal 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."

On a day when the nation was observing the Veterans Day holiday, the president presented Dunham's actions as a reflection of the history of the Marine Corps.

"Years from now, when America looks out on a democratic Middle East growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima," the president said, to an audience of approximately 10,000, among them Dunham's parents.

The dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located on a 135-acre site next to the Marine Corps base in Quantico, began with the introduction of Marine Corps brass and a 21-gun salute to Bush, who walked from the building as the band played "Hail to the Chief." After the singing of the national anthem, four F-18s streaked across a blue sky.

The design of the museum's building, which slants upward toward the clouds, reflects the famous image of five Marines and a sailor raising the American flag on Iwo Jima. The scene was captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning picture taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

The museum is the centerpiece of the Marine Corps Heritage Center, which will include a memorial park, parade grounds, artifact restoration facilities and an onsite hotel and conference center. The museum, which opens to the public Monday, will focus on the Marines' contributions throughout the nation's history, immersing visitors in the sights and sounds of Marines in action.

Bush said visitors will experience life from a Marine's perspective - what it's like to make an amphibious landing under fire, deploy from a helicopter in Vietnam or endure a grueling boot camp.

"No, thanks," Bush said, joking.

Before the museum's opening yesterday, Bush opened the Oval Office for a second day in a row to Democrats who will control Capitol Hill next year, and both sides promised cooperation. But Democrats' heads were shaking over Bush's demands for the current lame-duck GOP Congress to enact measures they oppose.

"It's a little bit of a mixed message, sure," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who is set to be majority leader when his party assumes power in January. "Folks are scratching their heads a little bit."

Bush invited Reid and the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Richard J. Durbin, to his office for a nearly hourlong meeting aimed at charting a way forward in a government to be divided between a Republican White House and a Democratic Congress.

Bush had had lunch a day earlier with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, expected be the next speaker of the House.

"My attitude about this is that there is a great opportunity for us to show the country that Republicans and Democrats are equally as patriotic and equally concerned about the future, and that we can work together," said Bush, appearing in a good-natured mood when he, Reid and Durbin appeared before reporters in the Oval Office afterward.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times. Wire reports contributed to this article.

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