Debra Dunham is the mother of Cpl. Jason Dunham, winner of Beliefnet's People's Choice award for Most Inspiring Person of 2004, and Medal of Honor nominee. Since Jason's death in April of 2004, Debra and the Dunham family have received an outpouring of support and gratitude for Jason's sacrifice from soldiers and family members of those still in Iraq, as well as those whose loved ones have died. She spoke with Beliefnet about how we should honor the memories of those killed in action.

You've spoken with Marines who are still fighting in Iraq. What's your impression of how they're feeling? Do they feel like they have a job to finish or that they're tired of the war and want to go home?

From those I have talked with that are here [and] will be going back, and from the letters I get from some of the kids who are still over there--they feel that they have a job to do and would like to be able to complete the job they've started. They have a great deal of honor and commitment to each other, to the Corps, to the families of those who have been injured, and to those men and the women who have fallen.

What about the families you've spoken with who have had loved ones killed in action? How are they reacting to the continued war?

For those I've talked with, it's personal-it's not a political issue. Politics obviously plays in it, but we've lost part of our hearts. We've lost our family members, our sons, our husbands, wives, our child. And what we try to do is just find a new normal each day.

Everybody deals with it differently. It's learning to live with the loss and finding how to go on each day and how to live your day to the fullest. I know Jason wouldn't want us to sit and mope and not continue [on] with our lives because he gave his life so that we're still able to enjoy the freedoms here-to continue living and enjoying those, and being safe.

We have the pride that our son stood in place of those who were not able to do so for themselves. We still hold the pain, but we have our sons' memories to hold and their actions. As I said, it's a personal loss-this is not political.

Do the families feel resentful in any way?

Those who I have spoken with or received letters from-no.

Do you know a lot of soldiers who are reenlisting?

Several in Jason's battalion have reenlisted.

What are your thoughts on the war itself?

I'm not angry with the military or the government or the president. My son joined the Marines freely. He did the Delayed Entry [Program] the summer of his junior year [of high school]. He was looking at the fact that with the Marines he could get some very good training, he would have the GI Bill when he was completed and that would help him [with] college. His end goal was to become a state trooper here in New York. By joining the military he would get both the training and he would be able to use the GI Bill to help with college. Jason joined in 2000 when it was peaceful, but he knew that there was a possibility that this could happen and he wanted to be able to do that.

We have so many freedoms that we take for granted...
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    We have so many freedoms that we take for granted in this country that men through the ages have fought for so that we can wake up everyday and [not] have to worry that a car is going to be parked out in front of a school that's going to be blown up. Terrorism is leaking from the countries that aren't as fortunate as our own country. It's hit here, it's hit London, and to cave to that, we lose. Everybody loses. And we've given into something that is the amount of a small child stamping their feet and insisting that it's OK to have an ice cream cone before supper. By leaving and not completing it, we dishonor those who have gone before, who gave the ultimate price. You have to support those who are still fighting too.

    We have a lot of privileges and with the privileges in this country comes responsibility-the responsibility to help those who aren't able to help themselves is a commitment that you have to make and follow through with. You have to do more than lip service. Would it be nice if we didn't have to have the war? Yes. We're there-we have to finish it.

    Cindy Sheehan, the mother of the army specialist killed in Iraq, has very publicly expressed her anger at President Bush's refusal to meet with her and to withdraw troops. What are your thoughts on what she's doing?

    My heart bleeds for her, just as it does for any of us who have lost a child. She's doing what she believes is correct and she is going about it in a method that she feels is the best way. I feel like her son and my son fought for the freedoms that we still continue to have that allow her to be able to voice her opinion in the manner that she is doing.

    If you could talk to her, what would you say?

    I would tell her that our boys signed up on their own free will [and] that they knew that the possibility of danger was there even though, for my own son, it didn't look like it was going to be there. They both chose to follow through with their commitment. They chose careers that are very honorable and under-respected in some cases. We send our boys and girls to the military and they get phenomenal training and they go to war. War is ugly. We're going to lose, whether you're on the winning side or the losing side, everybody loses something. And we happen to pay the highest price-we've lost our children. [I'd tell her that] to grieve is normal, and everybody grieves differently. I can't really say that what's right for her and what's right for me are two of the same, or that I'm right and she's wrong. But to dishonor or to make light or get angry with the fact that our boys went to war and they lost their lives takes away from the fact that they gave the phenomenal gift of their lives so that others can be free.

    For Jason, three other men are still alive and raising families and continuing with their lives. Whether they do something that is in God's plan that is phenomenal or they will be the grandparents of people who are going to do something for this world that is great-that's my belief. Jason's destiny was met, and he gave this gift to the three that are still alive. To say anything less than that would take away from that gift.

    We really need to be so careful that we remember to honor the commitment and the sacrifices that our boys gave and not take away from it.

    How can we honor those still fighting?

    I think the best way that we can honor those who are still fighting is to support our troops-you don't need to support everything, but you need to support the men and women who chose to give us this freedom and to help others have freedom, that are following through on the jobs that they chose-and they do consider it a job. If you know of somebody still fighting, send them cards, send them letters, care packages, whatever. If you know of a family who has lost a person or who has a person who is still serving, just give them support-whether it's a card now and then, or a hug or whatever you can do just to let them know that you are there and that you care. We need not to be so negative. We need to be more supportive of those that chose to be there.
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