Kurt Busch to honor fallen Medal of Honor recipient during NASCAR race

A little more than 17 years ago, U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham’s heroic actions in Iraq saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines, while also eventually costing Dunham his life and earning the Marine the Medal of Honor.

Later this month, through a collaboration involving The American Legion, Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) and GEARWRENCH, NASCAR’s Kurt Busch will honor Dunham while driving the No. 1 Chevy in the Coca-Cola 600. And Tony Kanaan also will display Dunham’s name on the CGR No. 48 American Legion car during the NTT INDYCAR Series Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

On May 10, Busch met with the crew of the USS Jason Dunham in Jacksonville at Naval Station Mayport, where he revealed Dunham’s name will be adorned on the windshield of the No. 1 GEARWRENCH Chevy Memorial Day weekend as part of the NASCAR Salutes, 600 Miles of Remembrance program. For the past six years the top of the windshield on each of the Coca-Cola 600’s 40 drivers' cars has carried the name and rank of a servicemember who died in action.

Busch also received a U.S. flag that has flown on the USS Jason Dunham; the flag will be flown in Busch’s team pit box during the Coca-Cola 600.

The American Legion suggested honoring Dunham to Busch, CGR and GEARWRENCH and connected the three with Dunham’s family, which gave its blessing to the idea.

“To carry Dunham’s name on our racecar for Memorial Day weekend … it gives me that sense of pride to do my part and give back to our military and just show the respect for what Dunham, his family and everybody here has been through,” Busch said during the reveal event in Jacksonville. “For me, The American Legion, GEARWRENCH, Chip Ganassi Racing, it’s my honor to take around Dunham for the race.”

On April 14, 2004, during a reconnaissance mission in Karabilah, Iraq, U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and his platoon heard gunfire nearby. Realizing a Marine convoy had been ambushed, Dunham ordered his platoon toward the fighting.

When the platoon found seven Iraqi vehicles attempting to leave the scene of the fighting, it began stopping them for inspection. An insurgent attacked Dunham, who wrestled the man to the ground. But during the struggle the insurgent had released a grenade, which Dunham saw and immediately warned his fellow Marines of before falling on the grenade. It exploded, with Dunham bearing the brunt of the explosion, but his actions saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines.

Just 22 at the time, Dunham died from his wounds eight days later at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md. Less than three years later, Dunham’s parents were presented the Medal of Honor on behalf of Jason by President George W. Bush in a private ceremony. Dunham was the second U.S. servicemember to earn the Medal of Honor during the Iraq War and the first Marine to receive it since the Vietnam War. Read Dunham’s Medal of Honor citation here.

Two months after Dunham’s family received the Medal of Honor, a barracks building at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia was named after the Marine, and just six days later it was announced the Navy’s newest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer also would be named for Cpl. Dunham. The ship was christened by Dunham's mother, Debra Dunham, and launched on Aug., 2009, and commissioned on Nov. 13, 2010.

USS Dunham Commanding Officer Steven Puskas said it was an honor to be a part of Busch’s announcement and to see Dunham being recognized. “This is a great opportunity for the family and the crew, as an extended family to the Dunhams,” he said. “We try to live every day in (Jason’s) memory and what he would do for the great hero that he was. I think this is just a great opportunity for everyone all around.”