On April 22, 2004, Cpl. Jason Dunham died, surrounded by his family and the commandant of the Marine Corps.
Less than a week before, Dunham had thrown himself on a grenade during combat in Iraq's Anbar Province. His sacrifice saved two of his fellow Marines; Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor three years later.
Those Marines want to tell his story to the world, but they need your help.
That day, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, were meeting with local Iraqi officials. In the earliest days of the Iraq War, the area in which they operated was one of the most violent and dangerous for American troops. As their mission wrapped up, the Marines departed, but they were quickly ambushed.
Dunham was part of the squad providing security for the meeting. When the ambush began, he and his fellow Marines -- in true Marine Corps fashion -- ran toward the danger.
Though the insurgents faded into the crowds almost as fast as the attack began, the Marines knew what to look for, quickly finding a truck filled with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The driver leapt from the vehicle and attacked Dunham. The Marine fought him off as two others, Pfc. Kelly Miller and Lance Cpl. Bill Hampton, moved in to assist. The next thing they saw was Dunham on top of his own Kevlar helmet as a grenade exploded, shredding right through his flak vest.
Hampton and Miller have never forgotten Dunham or the sacrifice that saved their lives. Nor have any of the other men of Kilo 3/7. Now, they're banding together to tell Dunham's story via a documentary film, tentatively titled "The Gift."
It comes from seasoned producer and director David C. Kneiss, a Navy vet who has brought on fellow veteran and producer Vincent Vargas to help tell the story. But they need your help to fund it. The film's crowdfunding page currently sits at only six percent of what's required.
Kneiss actually met Dunham on a flight. The two veterans began to talk. Before they knew it, the flight was over and they parted ways.
"Flash forward to 2004, I was looking at iCasualties.org, a website that lists all the KIAs. One name stood out to me, Jason Dunham, 29 Palms, from a small town in upstate New York," Kneiss said. "I felt awful. I sat down that night and wrote about meeting him and how I found out he had been killed. I posted it on The Khe Sanh Veterans website. I knew a lot of the Khe Sanh guys because of a documentary I did on my high school teacher, who was a Marine during the 77-day siege at Khe Sanh."
Kneiss' story was read by Dunham's mother, Deb. They eventually talked at length, and the producer found himself headed for upstate New York. The 3/7 Marines hadn't even returned from Iraq yet. As Kneiss began to meet Jason Dunham's family and friends, the story of the young Marine and his sacrifice began to get more and more personal for him.
Now, Kneiss and those Marine are on a mission to help fund the film and tell Dunham's story. The Marines who are alive today because of Dunham have moved on from the Marine Corps. They have children and lead lives completely separate from their military past -- but only because Dunham threw himself on that grenade in 2004. It's been a hard road for some, but the "gift" he gave them has been the catalyst for them to lead better lives.
"My greatest hope is that people who watch this film will walk away with a better understanding of what our combat veterans have gone through," Kneiss said, "so when they do say the words 'thank you for your service,' they will have a better understanding of what those words truly mean."
For veterans, the film's message is to remember you are not alone and that we can all find purpose and move forward in life. As Bill Hampton, whose life was saved by Dunham's sacrifice, tells it, "Take what you're given, make it count ... and don't stop."
For more information or to donate to the film, visit its Indiegogo Page. You can also follow its progress on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. To hear the real Marines of Kilo 3/7 talk about what Dunham means to them, catch their episode of the Jocko Podcast with Jocko Willink and on Vincent Vargas' Vinny Roc Podcast.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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