Dan and Debra Dunham, parents of the late Cpl. Jason Dunham, stand April 11 in front of the keel of what will be the USS Jason Dunham, a destroyer named in their son's honor. Cpl. Dunham was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2007 for diving on a live grenade in Iraq in 2004, saving the lives of two fellow Marines. He died from his injuries after being sent back to the U.S. (BATH IRON WORKS)
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A lot has changed for the parents of the late Cpl. Jason Dunham since he died in 2004, after saving two other Marines by throwing himself on an insurgent's grenade in Karabilah, Iraq.
They visited the White House, where President Bush presented Dunham's parents with his Medal of Honor on Jan. 11, 2007. They witnessed the naming of the post office in their hometown of Scio, N.Y., in his honor.
And they watched as their three other children continued to grow up, with one getting married, another starting college and the third becoming a teenager.
On April 11, Dan and Debra Dunham honored their hero son again, traveling to Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, to help as their two sets of initials were ceremonially welded into the keel of the future Navy destroyer Jason Dunham. The ceremony took place three days short of the fourth anniversary of the blast that claimed the Marine's life.
"Even though we lost him and it still hurts, there's a lot of pride," said Debra Dunham, from her home after the ceremony. "The gift that he gave his brothers was truly that, a gift."
The ship bearing Dunham's name, DDG 109, will be an Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer. One of two boats awarded to Bath in a $953 million contract, it will stretch 511 feet long, with room for 380 service members.
Deb Dunham, the ship's sponsor, said the visit to Bath was uplifting, though she wishes dearly her Marine son could have lived past 22 and attended himself.
"The Marine Corps is a very tight and warm family, but Bath Iron Works had the same feel to it," she said. "We went away with a sense of commitment and pride and warmth from what they're doing."
That warmth remains strong between the Dunham family and the late corporal's comrades in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Several are in touch regularly, including the two other Marines who sustained serious injuries in the blast, Deb Dunham said.
Sgt. William Hampton, a lance corporal when Dunham died, got married and now has a baby girl. Kelly Miller, a private first class at the time, left the Corps and is in college, Deb Dunham said.
"I think it'd be fair to say we've adopted them into the family," Dunham said of Kilo Company. "There's not a guy that I couldn't call, and they'd drop what they were doing and come and help us out."
Several Marines recently offered her husband good-natured advice when they learned Dunham's little sister, Katelyn, 15, had her first boyfriend, Deb Dunham said. The suggestion: Leave a gun in plain view to let him know who's boss.
"They're just as protective of my daughter as they would be of their sisters," the mother said with a laugh. "They gave Dan a lot of suggestions to let her new boyfriend know that she had more brothers than he was probably aware of."