Friday, July 31, 2009

Navy Launches USS Jason Dunham in Honor of Heroic Marine

The Navy is honoring the first Marine to win the Medal of Honor since Vietnam. The following article from the Associated Press tells the story:

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Navy's newest destroyer to carry name of Marine who died protecting his comrades in Iraq

Associated Press Writer

BATH, Maine (AP) — Marines flushing out Iraqi insurgents after an ambush came upon a column of vehicles. A van with a father and son. A pickup truck. A tractor. A BMW with a couple of sheiks. And a Toyota Land Cruiser with four young men, all of them insurgents.

As Marines began searching the vehicles, the driver of the Land Cruiser jumped out and attacked Cpl. Jason Dunham. The two men tumbled onto the dirt road. Two Marines ran up to assist but Dunham cried out, "No, no, no, watch his hand!"

A grenade exploded, rocking the narrow street.

Dunham, 22, of Scio, N.Y., mortally wounded as he saved his comrades that day, will be honored Saturday at the christening of the Navy's newest destroyer, the USS Jason Dunham. The young corporal who threw his Kevlar helmet and his body onto the grenade became the first Marine since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.

His mother, Deb Dunham, said she can't think of a greater tribute.

"It keeps his name alive and his memory alive. And that, as a parent, is what's important, so that people don't forget what our men and women are doing with the fight for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a cost to pay," Deb Dunham said.

Deb Dunham, who'll christen the ship with champagne at Bath Iron Works, will be joined by her husband Dan and their other three children.

Dunham's company commander, Maj. Trent Gibson, and other Marines who served with him in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, will attend.

First Sgt. John Ferguson, who heard Dunham's last words before the grenade blast, saw the insurgent and the three Marines sprawled on the ground when the dust settled that April 14, 2004.

"I thought for sure all four were dead," he said. Amazingly, though, Lance Cpl. William Hampton and Pfc. Kelly Miller, both suffering burns and shrapnel wounds, rose to their feet. Dunham never regained consciousness and died eight days later.

While Dunham's name will always be synonymous with his actions on April 14, 2004, his parents remember a young man who wasn't perfect, growing up in the small town in western New York. He excelled at sports but wasn't the best student. He often forgot to take the trash out, they said.

But he always had a tendency to look out for others.

"Jason had the biggest heart on this planet. He was always looking out for everybody else and their welfare. When they were sad, he would make them laugh. He was that way all through his childhood growing up, and in the Marine Corps also," Dan Dunham said.

He was an unlikely choice for squad leader because he hadn't seen combat. But Ferguson, who selected him, liked what he saw: "He didn't brag or boast about his abilities. He never yelled. In fact, the whole time I knew him he only yelled once or twice. He led by example."

Dunham took his role as squad leader seriously. He extended his enlistment so he could serve a full combat tour with his fellow Marines, and he vowed to make sure his squad made it home alive.

The rest of them did.

The Iraqi insurgency was gaining momentum when Dunham's unit arrived in Iraq's dangerous Anbar Province and set up shop in 2004 near the Syrian border.

Kilo Company lost its first Marine on April 9 in an ambush, so the troops were already on edge five days later when they heard explosions while on patrol in Karabilah. The battalion commander's convoy had been ambushed, so Dunham's unit set off to engage the enemy.

His squad came across a line of vehicles fleeing and decided to search them.

The old Land Cruiser was of particular interest because it had four young men in it. Miller got there first, and three Iraqis hopped out and fled, Gibson said.

Then the driver jumped out and attempted to choke Dunham. Dunham drove his knee into the man, and they fought on the ground. Miller struck the man with a telescoping baton and tried to put him in a choke hold, to no avail. Hampton, too, charged to the scene. No one but Dunham saw the grenade before the blast. Afterward, the suicide bomber got to his feet and was shot dead.

Later, Gibson, the company commander, returned to the bloody scene and found pieces of Dunham's helmet. He also found the pin from a grenade on the ground, next to the attacker's body. Another hand grenade and weapons including rocket-propelled grenade launchers were discovered in the Land Cruiser.

Dunham's response was not by the book. Marines are taught to hit the deck, facing away, to minimize shrapnel wounds from a grenade, Gibson said.

But Dunham had his own ideas. He'd told fellow Marines he thought the best approach would be to cover the grenade with the helmet and bullet-proof body armor, they said. In fact, he even demonstrated the technique. Little did he know that he'd employ the technique two weeks later.

"Dunham had thought about it quite a bit. He decided that you could cover it with your helmet to help diffuse the blast," Gibson said.

Dunham, whose Medal of Honor was announced in 2006, is one of four soldiers to receive the medal for actions in Iraq.

Gibson said Dunham's example serves as an inspiration to Marines.

"More than just being written up for a medal, it's really what kind of example he set in sacrificing himself, in committing himself so completely to the protection of his Marines," Gibson said.

The USS Jason Dunham will go to sea with several mementoes donated by his family, including his dress blue uniform and a baseball bat. The warship carries the motto: "Semper Fidelis, Semper Fortis," which is Latin for "Always Faithful, Always Strong."

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The motto above says it all...

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Warriors Need Vacations, Too

My wife, Debbie, and I are in the middle of a long awaited vacation. Since I came home from Iraq late in 2004, we failed to take a real vacation during the first two years after my return. Then I spent more time on active duty until the end of January this year. Yeah, I know, shame on me.

We are spending about a week at Amelia Island Plantation, a great resort off the northeast coast of Florida. We have a beautiful condo on the beach and a lot of wonderful places to eat and shop. It is relaxing beyond belief.

I have also discovered that Amelia Island offers some great opportunities for service members to enjoy “warrior vacations”.

Blue skies, the soft pounding of the surf, the breeze that carries the salty air, the white beaches, and no crowds. Amelia Island is a true paradise. I took the above picture at sunrise yesterday from our balcony.

For further information, visit or call (904) 206-0710.

Charles M. Grist

Sunday, July 19, 2009

British WW I Veteran Dies As World's Oldest Man

From the Associated Press:

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World's Oldest Man Dies at Age of 113
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Associated Press

LONDON — The world's oldest man, 113-year-old World War I veteran Henry Allingham, died Saturday after spending his final years reminding Britain about the 9 million soldiers killed during the conflict.

Allingham was the last surviving original member of the Royal Air Force, which was formed in 1918. He made it a personal crusade to talk about a conflict that wiped out much of a generation. Though nearly blind, he would take the outstretched hands of visitors in both of his, gaze into the eyes of children, veterans and journalists and deliver a message he wanted them all to remember.

"I want everyone to know," he told The Associated Press during an interview in November. "They died for us."

Only a handful of World War I veterans remain of the estimated 68 million mobilized. There are no French veterans left alive; the last living American-born veteran is Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia.

"It's the end of a era -- a very special and unique generation," said Allingham's longtime friend, Dennis Goodwin, who confirmed Allingham's death. "The British people owe them a great deal of gratitude."

Born June 6, 1896, Allingham left school at 15 and was working in a car factory in east London when war broke out in 1914.

He spent the war's first months refitting trucks for military use, but when his mother died in June 1915, he decided to join up after seeing a plane circling a reservoir in Essex, east of London.

"It was a captivating sight," he wrote in his memoir. "Fascinated, I sat down on the grass verge to watch the aircraft. I decided that was for me."

Only a dozen years after the Wright brothers first put up their plane, Allingham and other airmen set out from eastern England on motorized kites made with wood, linen and wire. They piled on clothes and smeared their faces in Vaseline, whale oil or engine grease to block the cold.

"To be honest, all the planes were so flimsy and unpredictable -- as well as incapable of carrying large fuel loads -- at the start of the war that both British and German pilots would immediately turn back rather than face each other in the skies if they did not enjoy height supremacy," Allingham would later write." "But I remember getting back on the ground and just itching to take off again."

As a mechanic, Allingham's job was to maintain the rickety craft. He also flew as an observer on a biplane. At first, his weaponry consisted of a standard issue Lee Enfield .303 rifle -- sometimes two. Parachutes weren't issued.

He fought in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of World War I. He served on the Western Front, by now armed with a machine gun.

He was wounded in the arm by shrapnel during an attack on an aircraft depot, but survived.

After the war he worked at the Ford motor factory and raised two children with his wife, Dorothy. She died in 1970, and when his daughter Jean died in 2001, friends say he waited to die, too.

That's when he met Goodwin, a lay inspector for nursing homes, who realized that veterans of Allingham's generation were not getting the care they needed to address the trauma they had experienced at the Somme, Gallipoli and Ypres. Some veterans ached to return to the battle fields to pay their respects to their slain friends, and Goodwin found himself organizing trips to France.

He encouraged Allingham to share his experiences and the veteran soon began talking to reporters and school groups, the connection to a lost generation. He found himself leading military parades. He was made an Officer of France's Legion of Honor.

He met Queen Elizabeth II and wrote his autobiography with Goodwin, "Kitchener's Last Volunteer," a reference to Britain's Minister for War who rallied men to the cause. Prince Charles wrote the introduction.

He grew accustomed to being one of the last ones standing. Last year, he joined Harry Patch, Britain's last soldier, and the late Bill Stone, its last sailor, in a ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial near the houses of Parliament in London, to mark the 90th anniversary of the war's end.

As the wreaths were being laid, Allingham pushed himself up out of his wheelchair to place his arrangement at the base of the memorial.

Allingham remained outspoken until his death, pleading for peace and begging anyone who would listen to remember those who died.

"I think we need to make people aware that a few men gave all they had to give so that you could have a better world to live in," he said. "We have to pray it never happens again."

Goodwin says Allingham's funeral will take place in Brighton. He is survived by five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great grandchildren and one great-great-great grandchild.

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Our condolences to Mr. Allingham's family and friends.

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Florida Guardsman Fighting to Get His Purple Heart

Wounded Iraq Vet Battles US Army
AOL News

(July 13) -- He's home from Iraq, but retired Florida National Guard Sgt. Ernie Rivera is fighting a new battle -- with the Army.

Rivera was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service, which he completed in 2007. But Rivera, who was hospitalized for six months, says he deserves a Purple Heart, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The Purple Heart is given to service members who've been wounded or killed while serving.

Records show Rivera was totally disabled by traumatic brain injury (TBI) related to combat, but the Army said it can't tell for sure whether it came from a roadside bomb that exploded in his convoy in December 2006 because his most severe symptoms didn't surface until weeks after the blast. He wasn't treated for any of his injuries immediately, thinking he'd escaped serious harm.

"I'm being punished for toughing it out," Rivera, 39, told the Times. "I can't see how a person can go through what I went through and still be denied a Purple Heart."

He said that in the weeks after the blast, his condition deteriorated. He started experiencing vertigo, muscle weakness, memory loss and problems with his cognition, vision and hearing. Rivera, a platoon leader, wasn't evacuated from the field until six months after the explosion.

Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman who commented to the paper generally on policy, said Rivera's delayed treatment may have been key in the Army's decision to deny him the honor.

"If it's not treated in pretty short order, there is no way to verify the injury he is now citing came from the blast," Hall said. "No one questions that TBI is a valid injury. But how do you verify what caused the TBI?"

Rivera plans to keep fighting for the award.

"It takes away from the validity of the Purple Heart," he said, "if you have to fight so hard to get it."

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Sounds like this guy deserves the Purple Heart. They need to take care of this injustice ASAP.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Birthday America!

Have a wonderful Fourth of July for 2009. Please take time to remember the sacrifices made over many generations to achieve and maintain our freedom.

We will enjoy this day of fireworks, cookouts, and family fun because our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are taking care of us on battlefields throughout the world.

God bless our warriors, and may He protect them from harm. And may He continue to bless the United States of America...

Charles M. Grist