This month our Navy is commissioning our two newest Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers the USS JASON DUNHAM (DDG-109) and USS GRAVELY (DDG-107). I want to talk about these two ships in particular because I believe they are more than just warships – they represent two great Americans who lived in very different times, with very different backgrounds, but whom have become symbols of courage and sacrifice for our nation.
USS JASON DUNHAM is named for 22 year old Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. On 14 April 2004 Corporal Dunham and his team were checking vehicles for weapons when an Iraqi insurgent leapt from his car and attacked him. Two of his fellow Marines were on their way to help when the insurgent released a grenade. In an instant, Corporal Dunham dropped to the ground, covered the explosive with his Kevlar helmet and absorbed the brunt of the blast with his body. All three Marines were seriously wounded from the explosion and Corporal Dunham would pass away eight days later in Bethesda.
Corporal Dunham made the conscious decision that day to fall on that grenade to absorb the blast and protect his fellow Marines. Make no mistake about it; his actions were decisive, deliberate, and judged worthy of our nation’s highest military decoration – the Medal of Honor. And we now honor his name and memory in our Navy’s history as DDG-109, the USS JASON DUNHAM.
USS JASON DUNHAM (DDG-109) was commissioned on 13 November 2010.
“Semper Fidelis, Semper Fortis”
The second ship we are commissioning this month is the USS GRAVELY (DDG-107). The ship’s namesake, VADM Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr., first enlisted in the Naval Reserves in 1942 as a Fireman Apprentice and in 1944 became the first African American commissioned as an officer from the Navy Reserve Officer Training Course (NROTC). Although that accomplishment in and of itself was a fundamental change to our Navy at the time, he was only getting started. VADM Gravely would go on to become the first African American to command a Navy warship (including during combat operations), the first to command a major warship, the first to make the rank of Admiral, the first to make the rank of Vice Admiral and the first to command a Fleet (3rd Fleet).
What I find to be truly remarkable is that there was no script for VADM Gravely to follow…no path laid out for him. At a time in our nation when many of the doors of opportunity were closed to African Americans, VADM Gravely refused to be held back by the color of his skin. Through hard work, determination and an unwavering commitment to excellence, VADM Gravely permanently broke the barriers for African Americans and forever changed our Navy. And all along the way, throughout his 38 years of service to our nation, he would inspire and mentor many young Sailors that would become some of the finest leaders in our Navy.
USS GRAVELY (DDG-107) will be commissioned on 20 November 2010.
“First to Conquer”
All the best, JCHjr