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War, remembrance and the ultimate honor As one WNY fighting man is mourned, nation's highest award recalls another

This is a week of solemn tribute for two fallen soldiers who hailed from Western New York.

Monday, the tight-knit community of the Village of Cattaraugus filled the pews, and even the lobby, of Roberts Memorial Free Methodist Church to say their final farewells to Army Sgt. Jason C. Denfrund.

And Thursday, the parents of Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham will travel from Scio in Allegany County to the White House to receive their son's posthumously awarded Medal of Honor, White House officials told The Buffalo News.

At least 43 service members from Western New York and the Rochester area have died in Iraq since the war started in March 2003.

Dunham will be only the second member of the Armed Forces who served in the Iraq War to be selected for the medal -- the nation's highest military honor.

On April 14, 2004, he heroically, and selflessly, dived on top of a live grenade thrown by an Iraqi. His body absorbed the impact of the blast, saving his comrades but leaving him mortally wounded. Eight days later, he succumbed to his wounds in Bethesda Naval Hospital.

President Bush made the announcement that Dunham would be awarded the Medal of Honor on Nov. 10 -- on what would have been Dunham's 25th birthday. It also marked the 231st anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Bush later memorialized Dunham in his Thanksgiving address to the nation.

In Cattaraugus on Monday morning, more than 300 people from the village of just over 1,000 gathered for a memorial service for Denfrund.

On Christmas, the village was hit by the news that the 24-year-old Denfrund -- who had been a football star at Cattaraugus High School before joining the Army -- had been killed in Iraq. A roadside bomb had hit his patrol earlier that day.

Denfrund's funeral and burial took place last week in Illinois, where his widow, infant son and stepdaughter live.

Monday's memorial service gave Denfrund's large extended family and childhood friends a chance to honor his memory.

"He was one of our hometown heroes," the Rev. Michael Jones said after presiding at the service.

Loved ones shared their cherished memories of Denfrund and watched a slide show of photographs from his life -- as a little boy, then with his school buddies, of him in his football gear, at his wedding and in his military uniform, Jones said.

The images appeared as one of Denfrund's favorite songs, Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," played in the background.

"This big guy had a soft heart," Jones said.

Barbara Harvey told The News that she will always remember her brawny, loving nephew for the way he would rush up to her anywhere he saw her, even as a teenager surrounded by his friends.

"He'd come up and give you a hug," she said. "He didn't care who saw. He loved his family."

She sadly recounted how Denfrund had called home Dec. 20 and left a message. "He said he was thinking of us all and he'd get back as soon as possible," she said.

After the service, mourners made their way across the flag-lined street to Liberty Cemetery and a plot that will not hold Denfrund's remains but nonetheless will serve as an eternal memorial to him.

A wreath holding Denfrund's photo was placed on the plot. Local members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars fired a 21-gun salute, and taps was played.

"It was overwhelming," Harvey said of the large turnout. "Words can't express . . . the people and the support that have come out. That's one of the beauties of living in a small town."

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.



Other Western New York recipients of the Medal of Honor

John Basilone, Buffalo, Marines, World War II: He and 15 comrades fought off 3,000 Japanese on Guadalcanal, an action for which he earned the medal. He returned to combat duty and was killed in 1945 during the invasion of Iwo Jima.


John P. Bobo, Niagara Falls, Marines, Vietnam: While fighting in 1967, he inspired his outnumbered unit. After an exploding enemy mortar round severed his leg below the knee, he refused to be evacuated. With a web belt wrapped around his leg, which he jammed into the dirt to curtail the bleeding, he continued firing until he was killed, while his unit repulsed the onslaught.


Charles N. DeGlopper, Grand Island, Army, World War II: While fighting in France three days after DDay, he stood in full view of German soldiers to draw fire so his fellow soldiers could advance. After being wounded twice, he kept firing until he was killed.


William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, Buffalo, Army, World War I: In France, Lt. Col. Donovan led the assaulting wave in an attack. When he was wounded in the leg by machine gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued fighting with his unit until it withdrew.


William J. Grabiarz, Buffalo, Army, World War II: Grabiarz ran from behind a tank in the Philippines to carry his wounded troop commander to safety but was wounded in the shoulder. Covering the officer with his body, he was shot to death, but his commander survived.


Matt Urban, Buffalo, Army, World War II:His citation covers an 81-day period in France and Belgium in 1944. He was wounded seven times and earned 29 medals, including three Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars. Urban was called "The Ghost" by his German foes because he kept coming back to fight despite his wounds.

Source: Congressional Medal of Honor Society

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