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October 06, 2010

War Dogs: A Love Story

Gunnar, a USMC war dog, has a new family. You may recognize their name:

Gunner, a bomb-sniffing dog mustered out of the Marines for canine post-traumatic stress disorder, has found a new home with Deb and Dan Dunham, whose Marine son died in Iraq protecting the men beside him.

With patience and a red-rubber toy, the Dunhams are trying to coax Gunner back to emotional health. With liquid brown eyes and Labrador loyalty, Gunner is giving the Dunhams back a little of what they lost. Together, they are healing what they can and living with what they must.

"My Marine never came home," says Deb. "I have a place for a Marine."

In 2004, during a patrol near the Syrian border, Cpl. Jason Dunham found himself fighting an insurgent hand-to-hand on a dusty road. When two other Marines ran over to help, the Iraqi dropped a hand grenade.

Instead of rolling away, Cpl. Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet, shielding his men.

Though peppered with shrapnel, the other Marines walked away. A grenade fragment penetrated Cpl. Dunham's brain, sending him into a coma.

Doctors in the field gave him up for lost, but he survived the trip to the Naval hospital in Maryland.

Deb and Dan met Jason there, expecting to watch him recover. Instead, doctors told them that their son would never regain consciousness.

In keeping with instructions Jason left before going to war, the Dunhams removed him from life support. He was 22 years old.

At the White House in 2007, then-President George W. Bush presented the Dunhams with their son's Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.

I've been following Gunnar's story for a while now and I can't tell you how touched I was to see that the Dunham's have adopted him. I cried like a baby at the part of the video that described Gunnar's reaction to thunder and lighting. I once knew a brave little dog who was terrified of storms.

If loving Gunnar brings Dan and Deb Dunham one thousandth of the joy Sausage brought into our lives, they will be more than repaid for taking him into their home.

What a family.

Posted by Cassandra at October 6, 2010 02:02 PM

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I haven't even managed to click on the link and already I can barely see to type. I can't tell you how often I think of you and the little Sausage guy.

Posted by: Texan99 at October 6, 2010 03:15 PM

Thanks. For what it's worth I smile every time I think of him :)

There is a very fat woodchuck who lives outside my kitchen door. That is where we used to put Sausage out - now that there is no fearsome Weiner Beast to patrol the yard, the woodchuck is really feeling his oats.

If he eats one more bunch of flowers from my garden I am going to have words with him....

Posted by: Cassandra at October 6, 2010 03:26 PM

Dogs are miracles with paws and this story proves it!

Posted by: Craig at October 6, 2010 04:01 PM

I think I'm just going to dry my eyes and not click on the link at all today. Maybe tomorrow.

Posted by: htom at October 6, 2010 06:49 PM

A yellow lab, imagine that.

My big old dumb yellow lab is sitting with me now, like he does most nights. All 125 lb of him.

I hope this helps the Dunhams find some peace of mind, at least. Not to forget, just ease their pain.

And maybe Gunnar can become a normal dog again.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at October 6, 2010 08:47 PM

Re: Lover not fighter:

I was once driving into BIAP, and ran into a bomb search team. I opened up all the doors and the hood, and stood back while the dog did the search.

After it was over, I took a moment to talk to the handler.

"That's a very fine dog," I said.

"Better watch out," he replied. "She bit me last week."

I looked at the dog, and then at the handler. "That dog bit you?"

He blushed, as young men sometimes do. "I told her to," he said.

Posted by: Grim at October 6, 2010 11:17 PM

The bomb-sniffer team has a practice area across the street from the flight school. The kaydets watch them work out and usually say, "When I get married and have a family, that is the kind of dog I will get."

Posted by: BillT at October 7, 2010 05:22 AM

Let's hope that there's some peace for both Gunnar and the Dunhams.

Posted by: Mike Myers at October 7, 2010 12:53 PM

I wonder what the story behind that was.

Btw, the AAR details read to me differs slightly from what was publicly known.

The two Marines did not immediately run over to help once the two was on the ground grappling. Though they had been the ones initially attacked. This was consistent with certain training.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at October 7, 2010 05:01 PM

My big old dumb yellow lab is sitting with me now, like he does most nights. All 125 lb of him.

That's a nice mental picture, Don. Made me smile :)

Posted by: Cassandra at October 8, 2010 09:13 AM

The details on the recipient of the MOH is accurate. No inconsistencies in that that I have heard.

The AAR only concerned the actions of Marines who did as they were trained to do.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at October 8, 2010 11:54 AM

Ohh, what a story. Maybe I can blink my eyes dry ... no. Thanks, Cass, this is the kind of story that the world needs more of. Love is the path of healing.

Posted by: htom at October 8, 2010 12:58 PM

A very moving story. Thank you.

I ran across a good book on this topic a few years ago:

"Always Faithful: a memoir of the Marine dogs of WWII" by William W. Putney, 2001.

Posted by: John F. MacMichael at October 9, 2010 09:24 AM