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November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jason

I remember the day they laid my firstborn son in my arms. It was late September, 1979.

We were very young to be parents; still newly married and in college, poor as church mice. I had married at 19. Suddenly, at the age of 20 after 36 hours of labor it came to me: I was a mother. There was no going back - parenthood is a gung ho affair. You're either all in, or all out.

Lying in my still shaking arms was a helpless bundle of wrinkled pinkness whose tiny, perfect lips were already making infinitesimal sucking motions. I pulled him closer to my body and his head turned, eyes still tightly shut. The little mouth opened wide like a baby bird's seeking food, comfort, warmth. Me.

I wanted nothing more at that moment than to have the privilege of protecting him, always.

In the years that followed there were temper tantrums, epic stubborn contests, crushed dandelions offered up as though they were long stemmed roses, abandoned baby birds to be rescued and nursed back to health. Gerbils to be buried, and wept over. Skinned noses and knees and bedtime stories and tearful confessions. And then one day - too soon - it was time to let him go out in the world. My job was over.

All that remained was to see what he would make of 18 years of loving care that suddenly seemed pitifully inadequate.

It's hard for a mother to teach her son to be a man. We don't have the right tools, the right experiences. After years of having our parenting expertise go virtually unchallenged, there comes a time when we must stand aside and let them learn to be men from those who have experience in that undiscovered country.

It has been 5 years since I read this story. And today it will be 28 years - to the day - since another tiny bundle was laid in someone else's loving arms.

I remember, back in 2004, reading about the last few hours of Jason's life. I found myself, inexplicably, thinking of the first few hours of my own son's life and what passed through my mind as I held him in my arms for the very first time:

At the base in al Qa'im, Second Lt. Robinson, 24, of Kenosha, Wis., gathered the men of Cpl. Dunham's platoon in the sleeping area, a spread of cots, backpacks, CD players and rifles, its plywood walls papered with magazine shots of scantily clad women. The lieutenant says he told the Marines of the Dunhams' decision to remove their son's life support in two hours' time.

Lance Cpl. Dean wasn't the only Marine who cried. He says he prayed that some miracle would happen in the next 120 minutes. He prayed that God would touch his friend and wake him up so he could live the life he had wanted to lead.

In Bethesda, the Dunhams spent a couple more hours with their son. Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee arrived and pinned the Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded in battle, on his pillow. Mrs. Dunham cried on Gen. Hagee's shoulder. The Dunhams stepped out of the room while the doctors removed the ventilator.

At 4:43 p.m. on April 22, 2004, Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham died.

Six days later, Third Battalion gathered in the parking lot outside the al Qa'im command post for psalms and ceremony. In a traditional combat memorial, one Marine plunged a rifle, bayonet-first, into a sandbag. Another placed a pair of tan combat boots in front, and a third perched a helmet on the rifle's stock. Lance Cpl. Dean told those assembled about a trip to Las Vegas the two men and Becky Jo Dean had taken in January, not long before the battalion left for the Persian Gulf. Chatting in a hotel room, the corporal told his friends he was planning to extend his enlistment and stay in Iraq for the battalion's entire tour. "You're crazy for extending," Lance Cpl. Dean recalls saying. "Why?"

He says Cpl. Dunham responded: "I want to make sure everyone makes it home alive. I want to be sure you go home to your wife alive."

I don't have anything wiser to say than I did on that day 5 years ago. All I can do is remember, my heart full of mingled wonder and desolation.

Somehow, I suspect I will not be the only one.

Posted by Cassandra at November 10, 2009 05:43 AM

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Comments

Beautifully done.

Posted by: Peter S Conover at November 10, 2009 09:00 AM

sigh.

Posted by: Carrie at November 10, 2009 09:44 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/10/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M at November 10, 2009 11:36 AM

WOW! Left a little speechless.
And "Farewell Marine" left me with a little less eye make up also.
What an exquisite tribute. I'd never seen it before now.
And, obviously, your Happy Birthday Jason well spoken.

Posted by: A Feline From The Rocky Mtns at November 10, 2009 05:38 PM

That's a beautiful story.

Posted by: dellbabe68 at November 10, 2009 07:59 PM

Damn it Cassandra. You write things that are so hard to read but are so essential that they must be read.

I am grateful that you choose to write. And as a soldier, I am grateful that we have Marines. My only questions are where do find such fine youmg men and women who willingly go in harms way, and how do we ever thank their parents and spouses for the sacrifices they make to support their Marine?

The same sentiments go out to the other services as well, but the Marines....well, it IS their birthday, and as has been stated, theres' just something inherently special about an organization that can trace its' roots to a tavern in Philadelphia.

KP
CW4, US Army

Posted by: Kbob in Katy at November 10, 2009 08:48 PM

"Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend."

"..Who more than self, his country loved
And mercy more than might."


The Ballad of Rodger Young

Oh, they've got no time for glory in the Infantry.
Oh, they've got no use for praises loudly sung.
But in every soldier's heart in all the Infantry
Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young.

(Shines the name, Rodger Young!
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
To the everlasting glory of the Infantry.
Lives the story of Private Rodger Young.)

Caught in ambush lay a company of riflemen
Just grenades against machine guns in the gloom.
Caught in ambush till this one of twenty riflemen
Volunteered, volunteered to meet his doom.

Volunteered, Rodger Young!
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
In the everlasting annals of the Infantry
Glows the last deed of Private Rodger Young.

(It was he who drew the fire of the enemy
That a company of men might live to fight.
And before the deadly fire of the enemy
Stood the man, stood the man we hail tonight.)

On the island of New Georgia in the Solomons
Stands a simple wooden cross alone to tell.
That beneath the silent coral of the Solomons
Sleeps a man, sleeps a man remembered well.

Sleeps a man, Rodger Young!
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
In the everlasting spirit of the Infantry
Breathes the spirit of Private Rodger Young.

No, they've got no time for glory in the Infantry.
No, they've got no use for praises loudly sung.
But in every soldier's heart in all the Infantry
Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young.

Shines the name, Rodger Young!
Fought and died for the men he marched among.
To the everlasting glory of the Infantry
Lives the story of Private Rodger Young.

-------------------------------------------------

Private Rodger Young, a native of Tiffin, Ohio, was a member of the 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for the supreme sacrifice which he made on July 31st, 1943, during the battle for the Solomon Islands.


Lest we forget....

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 10, 2009 09:43 PM

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