FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (NNS) -- Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) joined Marine Corps Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines for a dual birthday celebration in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Nov. 10.
The dinner celebrated the birthday of the ship's namesake, Cpl. Jason Dunham, and the Marine Corps 235th birthday. Fort Lauderdale Mayor John Seiler spoke at the event where officially named Nov. 10 as a day of remembrance for Dunham.
Dunham's mother, Deb Dunham, spoke at the event.
"Thank you and thank everyone for coming," said Deb Dunham. "I truly appreciate all of the love and support. Happy birthday Jason, and happy birthday U.S. Marine Corps."
Dunham, who was born on the same day, selflessly sacrificed his life April 14, 2004, by using his Kevlar helmet to cover a grenade which saved the lives of two of his fellow Marines during combat in Iraq. Jason Dunham was 22 years old at the time. For this courageous act, President George Bush posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor.
"When we got confirmation that we would be having the commissioning ceremony here in Port Everglades we were elated," said retired Navy senior chief petty officer Chuck Black. "The city opened its doors and its hearts. There is absolutely no way to say no. Jason's story is compelling. This could have been anyone's son, grandson, nephew or daughter."
The entire week has been a long time coming for members of the commissioning committee who began planning the event more than six months ago.
"I truly believe that everything fell into place through his spirit," said Black, "Every major obstacle from planning and funding just worked out. Even when I asked myself how we were going to make all of this happen, somehow doors just opened for us."
Maj. Trent Gibson, Dunham's officer in charge, shared his feelings about a U.S. Navy ship being named in Jason Dunham's honor.
"I think it's an indescribable honor," said Gibson. "The fact that his name is on a ship is going to perpetuate and inspire future generations of American sons and daughters of that impact. His name is already legendary in the Marine Corps, but to extend it to the Navy is truly special."
Gibson said he recognized early on, Dunham's undeniable leadership qualities. Since Dunham's passing, Gibson said he has struggled with this loss.
"I used to think that I would rather have his mother Deb have her son home for Christmas," said Gibson. "I had realized however, that this man accomplished more in dying than most men do in living."
As the night came to a close, the Marines huddled on the balcony overlooking the city. Gibson, in the center, slowly raised his glass commanding everyone's undivided attention for a toast to not only Dunham, but to all fallen service members.
"Happy birthday Marines," Gibson said. "Hoorah."
Sailors stationed aboard Dunham are in Port Everglades awaiting their ship's Nov. 13 commissioning ceremony.
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