More than just the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day honors soldiers like Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham who in the spring of 2004, while fighting in Iraq, threw himself on top of a grenade to protect his comrades. He injuries put him in a vegetative state, and he died eight days later.
Sacrificing himself was nothing new to Dunham, according to his parents, who say he is worthy of the military's highest honor -- the Medal of Honor -- for which he has been nominated.
"We would have been more surprised if he had turned and ran instead of doing what he did," said Dunham's mother, Deb Dunham.
If President Bush approves his nomination, Dunham would be only the second recipient of the Medal of Honor since the war in Iraq began. Just 3,459 have been awarded since its creation in March 1863.
Dunham had extended his enlistment through July 2004 when he made the ultimate sacrifice. Serving with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines in Iraq -- a front-line unit Dunham was responsible for leading into battle -- he became engaged in a scuffle with an Iraqi who was holding a grenade that had already been disengaged. When Dunham realized this, he shouted a warning to his soldiers and launched his body on top of the grenade, covering it with his helmet.
Michael Phillips, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was embedded with Dunham's battalion for four tours in Iraq and recounts Dunham's act of heroism in his book, "The Gift of Valor."
"He had less than five seconds to make a decision to sacrifice himself, and he didn't hesitate because he wanted to save his men, which he did," Phillips said
Dunham's father wants the world to know that these are the types of heroic acts young servicemen and women are performing everyday in Iraq.
"I just think they need to know what these young kids are doing," Dan Dunham said. "The maturity of them, the courage, the sacrifice, I don't think that a lot of people realize what goes on over there, and they need to realize that these guys, they're all heroes to me."
The Dunhams don't need Memorial Day or a medal to remind them of what their son did.
Honoring his wishes and the explicit instructions laid out in his will, the Dunhams terminated their son's life after he returned to the United States in a vegetative state, a decision that still haunts them.
"I live with that everyday, it's something that I may never get over," Dan Dunham said. "Miracles happen, but did I make the right decision? I struggle with that."