THE ELEVENTH HOUR OF THE ELEVENTH DAY
OF THE ELEVENTH MONTH
Yesterday on the 231st birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and on what would have been his 25th birthday, Lance Corporal Jason Dunham was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for performing the classic act of self-sacrifice in battle-- the one we've all heard about but never conceive of in reality: he threw his own body over a live hand grenade to save the lives of his fellow warriors.
Before me sits a book called The Gift of Valor, by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael M. Phillips, who autographed it for me last April at the first national convention of Marineparents.com. It tells the story of Jason Dunham's brief life and heroic death. I have not yet had the courage to read it.
On April 14, Easter Sunday, 2004, Lance Corporal Dunham shredded his body to fulfill the promise he had made when he voluntarily extended his enlistment to return to Iraq: he wanted so see to it that all his buddies made it back home safely. He lived for another eight days, and then was taken off life-support by his agonized parents on April 22, 2004, at Bethesda Hospital in Maryland.
Celebrate Lance Corporal Dunham's life and sacrifice at his memorial website, and also here, here, here, here, and here.
The observances of this day-- performed with special poignancy in the lands of the British Commonwealth, with poppies, bagpipes, and the weight of grief expressed in the words of Canadian doctor Lt. Col. John McCrae in his 1915 poem In Flanders Fields-- are all about not forgetting.
- We are the Dead. Short days ago
- We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
- Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
- In Flanders fields.
If ye break faith with us who dieThe Marine's Prayer
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed, and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones, and Thee without shame or fear. Protect my family.
Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm. Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance. Keep me loyal and faithful to my superiors and to the duties my Country and the Marine Corps have entrusted to me. Help me to wear my uniform with dignity, and let it remind me daily of the traditions which I must uphold.
If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again.
Guide me with the light of truth and grant me wisdom by which I may understand the answer to my prayer.