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The Villages
Monday, June 17, 2024

True sacrifice

Tony Violanti
Tony Violanti

In 2006, I received a call from the White House. President George W. Bush’s office was calling me about a newspaper story I wrote regarding Corporal Jason Dunham of the United States Marine Corps who was killed in Iraq.

To see the story go to:
I wrote the story on Dunham in 2005, the same year a book about him came out called, “The Gift of Valor: A War Story,” by Michael M. Phillips, of the Wall Street Journal.
In 2007, Dunham, 22, became the first Marine since Vietnam to earn the Medal of Honor. He was from Scio, NY. I wrote for the Buffalo News, not far from Scio.
I wrote about what happened to Dunham in Iraq, based on the descriptive writing of Phillips.

Jason Dunham
Jason Dunham

“On April 14, 2004, Dunham led a 14-man foot patrol into a town called Karabilah. Dunham approached a line of seven Iraqi vehicles along a dirt alleyway. An Iraqi in a black suit jumped out of one of the vehicles and grabbed Dunham by the throat. The two men fought as two other Marines raced to the scene.

“The Iraqi had a grenade in his hand, and Dunham yelled to two Marines near him, “no, no, no, watch his hand,” Phillips wrote in his book. “The grenade rolled loose, and the other Marines believe Dunham placed his helmet and body over it to protect them. It exploded, and Dunham lay face down and unconscious in his blood.

“Cpl. Dunham was in the middle of the explosion,” Pfc. Kelly Miller, 21, one of the Marines who raced to the scene, was quoted by Phillips. “If it was not for him, none of us would be here. He took the impact of the explosion.”
That’s how Jason Dunham earned the Medal of Honor. He was mortally wounded and died about a week later.
I interviewed Mark Dean, a fellow Marine who was with Dunham on that fateful day. 
“I think about him every day,” Dean told me. “Some days are tougher, and some aren’t.”

 “Cpl. Dunham had a gift from God,” Dean added, his voice breaking. “Everybody who came in contact with him wanted to be like him. He was the toughest Marine but the nicest guy. He would do anything for you. Cpl. Dunham was the kind of person everybody wants as their best friend. It’s hard to explain in words.”
The White House was calling me because President Bush wanted to use Dean’s words in a speech to help describe Dunham. President Bush did and I was honored.
I was also a harsh critic of President Bush’s policies, especially regarding the Iraq War. But I respect and honor the service and sacrifice of every man and woman who fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or any other war. And I respected President Bush.
I also believe in the First Amendment and without the brave men and women who serve our country there would be no freedom of speech.
Which brings us to this past week and Donald Trump.
Last week, at the Democratic Convention, Khizr and Ghazala Khan appeared on stage. They are the Muslim parents of  U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was 27 when killed in Iraq in 2004. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroic actions in saving other soldiers and civilians.

Humayun Khan
Humayun Khan

Khizr Khan criticized Trump for his call to ban Muslims from the United States. He and his family are immigrants from Pakistan.

“If it was up to Donald Trump, [Humayun] never would have been in America,” Khan said. “Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims.”
Then Khan waved a copy of the Constitution at the camera. “In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’” Khan said. He added to Trump:
“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities.”

Trump responded this way:

Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democratic Convention.
Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democratic Convention.

“Did Hillary’s script writers write (Khan’s speech)?” Trump said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. Khan said he wrote the speech himself.
Then Trump went after Gold Star Mother, Mrs. Khan, suggesting she may not have been allowed to speak. “I‘d like to hear his wife say something.”
On stage, Mrs. Khan looked on verge of tears, still emotional about her son’s death while serving his country. Later, she would say: “All America felt my pain… please Mr Trump, feel that pain.”
I remember interviewing Deb Dunham – Jason’s mother – when she talked about such pain.
“The rawness and sense of loss for us will never go away,” she told me. “It’s easy for people to forget about the sacrifice Jay made, and as his mother, I don’t want anyone to forget.”
Trump’s words were shameful, beneath the dignity of a man who aspires to be Commander in Chief. Trump then went after Mr. Khan, saying he
“has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.”
He has every right in America to speak, and Khan’s son gave his life to preserve that right.
The VFW understands and issued this statement about Trump: “The VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression,” said Brian Duffy, leader of the veterans’ organization. “Giving one’s life to the nation is the greatest sacrifice, followed closely by all Gold Star families, who have a right to make their voices heard.”
Gold Star families issued this statement to Trump:
“Your recent comments regarding the Khan family were repugnant and personally offensive to us,” wrote the group of 11 “Gold Star” families. “We feel we must speak out and demand you apologize to the Khans, to all Gold Star families, and to all Americans for your offensive, and frankly anti-American comments.”
“There’s only one way to talk about Gold Star parents: with honor and respect. Together we should pray for this family,” said John Kasich, Republican governor of Ohio.
“Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. “His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.”

“This is so incredibly disrespectful of a family that endured the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” said former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush.
Trump, though, didn’t seem upset by all the fuss. In an interview with ABC-TV, he said: “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices.”
Tell it to Humayun Khan.

Tony Violanti is a correspondent for Villages-News.com

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