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Deb Dunham, the mother of Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Jason Dunham and sponsor of the ship bearing her son's name, smashes the ceremonial bottle of champagne against the bow of the Navy's newest AEGIS-class destroyer, the USS Jason Dunham, after officially christening her during the Aug. 1 ceremony at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

Photo by Pfc. Michael T. Gams

Legacy lives aboard USS Jason Dunham

7 Aug 2009 | Pfc. Michael T. Gams

Champagne sprayed, crowds cheered and tears flowed Saturday as the mother of the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor since Vietnam christened the Navy’s 59th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the DDG 109 with its new name, the USS Jason Dunham.

Deb Dunham, accompanied by her biological and Marine Corps family, witnessed not only a ceremony to launch a ship into the Kennebec River, but the beginning of a lasting memorial to the courageous act which earned her son the Medal of Honor.

The story of Dunham’s selfless sacrifice was told and retold by a variety of prominent military men and members of congress including the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and the former Commandant of the Marine Corps retired General Michael Hagee, who presented Cpl. Dunham with the Purple Heart Medal and stood by his bedside as he died.

Hagee said the warship will serve as a reminder that freedom is paid for by the men and women who wear the cloth of this nation.

“They are willing to give up everything that is important: love, marriage, children, family and friends,” Hagee said of the hero from Scio, N.Y. “I can tell you I’ve always stood in awe of that.”

His sentiments were shared by many who attended the ceremony as one could look across the crowd and find it hard to spot a dry eye.

“I’ve seen many destroyers built, christened and sail out of this place,” said John Mcilhinney, the dry-dock operating engineer with General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. “This one is special. Everyone I’ve met, everyone I know who’s worked on her would say the same thing.

“The story behind the men behind the ships we build is what makes my job so worthwhile,” said the Casca, Maine native.

For this destroyer’s crew, the story holds extreme significance.

The day before the ceremony, Cmdr. Scott Sciretta, the warship’s commanding officer, spoke directly to his crew and told them to think about the man behind the ship’s name and seek inspiration in his story as they go about their daily work.

“Cpl. Jason Dunham gave everything for our country,” he said to the crew. “Think about that and use it to motivate you to give that tiny bit more every day.”

To help remind the crew of Dunham’s sacrifice, Deb and Dan Dunham, the fallen hero’s parents, decided to donate their son’s dress blue uniform to be displayed on the ship’s quarterdeck.

After the christening ceremony, Sgt. Maj. Michael Templeton, Dunham’s former company first sergeant; Maj. Trent Gibson, Dunham’s former company commander; and Sgt. Bill Hampton and Cpl. Kelley Miller, the two Marines whose lives were saved with Cpl. Dunham’s sacrifice, formally presented the ship’s command with each item of Dunham’s dress blue uniform.

Mabus summed up the day perfectly saying “though Jason is no longer with us, his name will live on in this magnificent warship that represents the best our nation has to offer.

“Jason’s spirit – as a warrior, fighter, and one who never gave up, even in the face of great challenges – lives on to lead all of the men and women who will ever serve aboard USS Jason Dunham, in home waters and abroad,” he said.

“In the fighting spirit of its namesake, the men and women of USS Jason Dunham will never back down from any challenge put before them.”

USS Jason Dunham will undergo months of construction and sea-trials before being officially commissioned into service in 2010.

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