Jason Dean Cunningham
Final Flight on March 04, 2002
Jason Dean Cunningham, Senior Airman, USAF
March 27, 1975 - March 04, 2002
Air Force Senior Airman Jason Dean Cunningham
Died March 4, 2002 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom
26, of Camarillo, Calif.; assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Ga; killed during a rescue mission during Operation Anaconda on March 4, 2002, in Afghanistan.
* * * * *
Surrounded by death, a young pararescueman chose to save lives — and lost his
By Sean D. Naylor
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — They call it the Battle of Roberts Ridge.
The 15-hour firefight cost more American lives — seven — than any other engagement to date in the war against terrorism. It was named after the first American to die amid the snowy, 10,000-foot mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
But so many troops performed with such extraordinary courage during that long night and day that it could easily have been named after any one of at least a dozen men. This is the story of the March 4 battle and one of those heroes.
It was approximately 3 a.m. March 4 when an MH-47E Chinook, code-named “Razor 3,” approached Takhur Ghar mountain, known to U.S. forces as “Objective Ginger.” The mountain dominates the southern end of the Shah-e-Kot Valley, and the dug-in al-Qaida forces there had proven impossible to dislodge in the 48 hours since U.S. troops had launched Operation Anaconda.
Riding in the back of the Chinook were a handful of Navy SEALs moving to a position where they could observe a series of cave complexes where al-Qaida fighters were concentrated. No place offered a more commanding view of the Anaconda battlefield than the top of Takhur Ghar.
But as the pilot from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment brought the Chinook in to land, the helicopter was met with a fusillade of enemy machine gun and rocket-propelled fire that severed vital hydraulic lines. The pilot jerked the helicopter up and away without inserting the SEAL team.
It was then that the crew realized that in the chaos one of the SEALs — Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts — had fallen out of the helicopter.
With the controls seizing up, it was all the pilot could do to limp north about four miles to a safer, flatter part of the valley, where he put the helicopter down.
Back at the U.S. headquarters at this sprawling air base, the night crew in the operations center maneuvered a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor the movements of Roberts. What they saw was profoundly disturbing. Within minutes of falling from the helicopter, Roberts was captured and taken away by al-Qaida guerrillas.
Maj. Gen. F.L. “Buster” Hagenbeck, the commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, approved the urgent request from the remaining SEALs on Razor 3 to return and look for their buddy.
“The reputation of these guys and how they treat prisoners is pretty much known,” said an Army official in Bagram. “We did not want to leave one of our people behind.”
Forty-five minutes after Razor 3 had made its forced landing, another MH-47E — “Razor 4” — landed beside the damaged Chinook. Razor 3’s crew and remaining SEALs climbed aboard the good aircraft, which flew to a U.S. base at Gardez, 15 miles away. There Razor 3’s crew got off, and the Chinook sped back to the valley. Aboard were five SEALs and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller.
As the Chinook approached Ginger, the troops aboard received constant updates on the whereabouts of the enemy fighters who had captured Roberts. Razor 4 landed near where they believed him to be. Enemy fire again met the helicopter, but this time the crew managed to offload the special operators and fly off.
Meanwhile, leaders at Bagram ordered the quick reaction force to launch. On the flight line, the twin rotor blades of two more MH-47s — “Razor 1” and “Razor 2” — slowly began to turn. On board Razor 1 were about 15 Rangers, as well as an Air Force enlisted tactical air controller, or ETAC, a pair of Air Force combat search- and-rescue pararescue jumpers and another Air Force special operations combat controller.
Sitting on the Chinook as it flew south into the heart of enemy territory was Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, a 26-year-old para-rescue jumper on his first combat mission.
‘He was all about saving lives’
Cunningham was a bright-eyed kid from New Mexico who always had a smile on his face. Married with two children, he had only been a pararescue jumper for eight months, but his infectious enthusiasm had already made him popular with his fellow PJs. Even among the highly trained professionals of the special operations world, Cunningham’s dedication to his job stood out.
“He had more motivation than any one man should have,” said Scott, one of Cunningham’s pararescue colleagues. “He was all about saving people’s lives.” For security reasons, Scott did not want his full name used.
The two years of grueling schooling it takes to earn the pararescueman’s badge requires an airman to become skilled at dealing with mental and physical stresses few others could endure. The washout rate can be as high as 90 percent.
Cunningham personified that endurance.
The pararescuemen are housed in the ground floor of the Bagram airfield tower building. Fifteen yards down the corridor are the expert field surgeons of the 274th Forward Surgical Team. It wasn’t long before Cunningham’s hunger to improve his medical skills had propelled him down the corridor. Soon he was spending a couple of hours every day with the medical staff, learning by doing under their tutelage.
“Every time we had a casualty event he was always the first one here offering to help,” said Dr. (Maj.) Brian Burlingame, the surgical unit’s commander. “His enthusiasm was just genuine to the core, which was what endeared him to us. He was like a little brother.”
One of the outcomes of Cunningham’s time with the surgical team docs was a decision to start sending the pararescuers out into combat with blood for transfusions. The use of blood in the field is a controversial topic, according to Burlingame.
“Blood is an FDA-controlled substance,” he said. “It’s very, very regulated.” Special training, not to mention lots of paperwork, is required before medics are considered qualified to administer blood in the field. After Cunningham and Burlingame started talking, all the pararescuers here took the classes and filled out the paperwork.
“We then pushed blood forward with [Cunningham’s] group,” Burlingame said.
Despite his hard-core attitude, Cunningham had never been in combat, and he yearned for a chance to do his job in that most demanding of environments. As the first two days of Anaconda passed without him being sent forward, his frustration was palpable.
“There were two things he was really passionate about: medicine and shooting,” Scott said.
Now, as the Chinook soared toward the heart of enemy territory, Cunningham was going to have an opportunity to put both skills to the test.
On Ginger, the al-Qaida fighters had executed Roberts, and the SEALs’ rescue mission had become a desperate fight for their own lives. As he called in close air support to keep the enemy at bay, Chapman was cut off from the SEALs. He was later found dead.
By the time Razor 1 approached Ginger, the sun was rising. The rescue force had lost the advantages of surprise and darkness. The enemy was waiting. Heavy machine gun, Kalashnikov and grenade fire erupted from the snowy mountainside as the helicopter came in to land. At least one rocket-propelled grenade hit the aircraft in the tail rotor. With the helicopter still 80 feet off the ground, bullets shattered the cockpit glass. A round smashed one pilot’s thigh bone, another knocked his helmet off. To his right, a bullet or fragment ripped a silver-dollar-sized hole in the other pilot’s wrist, while yet another tore into his thigh.
Seriously damaged, and with its pilots barely able to control it, the Chinook hit the ground hard, just below the peak of the ridge. Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt in the crash landing.
But the helicopter — and the troops inside — were now taking heavy fire from a series of well-protected al-Qaida positions 100 to 200 meters up the slope. As rounds peppered the aircraft, the Rangers ran off the back ramp into a hail of fire. Two or three dropped immediately, dead or badly wounded. The pilot with the broken leg popped his door open and flopped out into the snow.
As the Rangers on the ground sprinted for cover, the Chinook’s door gunners laid down a base of fire with their 7.62 mm miniguns. Then those watching the action via the Predator feed back in the operations center saw the left door gunner — Sgt. Philip J. Svitak — fall from his perch and lie motionless in the snow.
“He’s a black dot on the ground,” said a senior NCO who watched part of the Predator tape. “He’s dead. You just keep looking at him, and a minute’s gone, and another minute’s gone. You sit there [watching] and your heart sinks.”
When it was clear that the “landing zone” was in fact a free-fire zone, Razor 2 was waved off without dropping off its Rangers.
But the surviving members of the quick-reaction force on the ground were putting up a fight. A Ranger M-203 grenadier quickly destroyed the nearest al-Qaida position, but not before an enemy fighter there had launched a rocket-propelled grenade at the downed Chinook. That guerrilla then walked almost nonchalantly back to another fighting position, where he picked up another grenade and fired it at the helicopter.
Operating in ‘a bullet sponge’
The quick reaction force’s medical personnel, including Cunningham, another PJ who was a technical sergeant, two Ranger medics and a 160th medic, had their hands full. The Chinook’s cargo area became the casualty-collection point.
It was in there that Cunningham went to work, putting into practice all that theory he had absorbed, and doing so in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. He was trying to save lives in the back of a helicopter at the top of a bitterly cold mountain, under constant fire from enemy forces that had him and his colleagues surrounded.
Just when things seemed as if they couldn’t get worse, the forward compartment of the helicopter caught fire.
“The helicopter’s a bullet sponge after it gets shot down, because it’s just a great big target,” Scott said.
As Cunningham and the 160th medic worked inside to staunch their buddies’ bleeding, the enemy fire increased. Incoming mortar rounds bracketed the Chinook, landing within 50 feet of the helicopter’s nose.
About four hours after the helicopter hit the ground, Cunningham decided the cargo compartment had become too dangerous for his patients. Using a small sled-like device, Cunningham dragged the wounded troops to a safer spot away from the aircraft. In doing so, he crossed the line of enemy fire seven times.
The quick-reaction force had landed perhaps 330 feet from a well-fortified enemy command post at the top of Ginger. Enemy fighters in one bunker were raining accurate fire on the U.S. troops. As the mortar fire intensified, the quick-reaction force commander decided to assault the bunker, and Cunningham volunteered to join the attack. But the senior pararescueman held him back, because the force had taken more casualties and Cunningham’s medical skills were needed.
The Rangers gave it their best shot, but the assault stalled in the deep snow. However, the bunker — and the fighters inside it — did not survive for long. A U.S. jet destroyed it, one of countless occasions that day when pilots flying close air support missions came to the rescue of their colleagues on the ground.
“When our guys cried for help, everybody in the theater answered,” Scott said.
Those servicemen here familiar with the battle speak in awed tones about the quality of the close air support provided by the Air Force during the battle. When the fight started, it was an AC-130 gunship circling overhead that was keeping al-Qaida heads down with devastatingly accurate fire from its 105 mm howitzer. Then, as daylight forced the slow-moving gunship to retire, fast-moving, high-flying F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons picked up the slack, hurling bomb after bomb onto enemy positions with pinpoint accuracy.
The enemy’s movements forced Cunningham and the 160th medic to move the casualties to a second and then a third location outside the helicopter, exposing themselves to enemy fire. During the last movement, the 160th medic was shot twice in the abdomen.
Shortly thereafter, at 12:32 p.m., Cunningham’s luck ran out. An enemy round hit him just below his body armor as he was treating a patient. The bullet entered low from the right side and traveled across his pelvis, causing serious internal injuries.
“Untreated, you die from that,” Scott said.
Cunningham must have known he was in serious trouble. But despite his worsening condition, he continued to treat patients and advise others on how to care for the critically wounded. One of the two blood packs he had brought saved a badly wounded Ranger. The medics gave the other packet to Cunningham himself, whose life was slowly flowing out in a red stream onto the white snow.
Back at the surgical unit, word of the situation on the mountain was seeping back. “We’d heard that one of the 160th medics was hit, and one of the PJs severely wounded,” Burlingame said. If a medevac helicopter could get in and pick up the wounded, there was time to save Cunningham.
“The combat controller wanted so bad to say the LZ was cold so they could bring in a helicopter to evacuate the wounded, but he couldn’t,” Scott said. In the early afternoon, leaders directed that no more rescue attempts be risked until darkness. It was a decision made to save lives, and it probably did. But it sealed Cunningham’s fate.
As the hours in the snow lengthened, Cunningham grew increasingly weak from loss of blood. Seven hours after he was hit, the other medics began to perform CPR on Cunningham. They continued for 30 minutes, until it was clear nothing more could be done. There were other lives to save. At about 8 p.m. on March 4, Jason Cunningham became the first pararescue jumper to die in combat since the Vietnam War.
As night fell, the level of enemy fire ebbed. The determined close air support from the Air Force, combined with the Rangers’ and SEALs’ own expert marksmanship, had done their job. Hagenbeck later said 40 to 50 enemy fighters died in the battle.
As air power pounded the enemy positions on Ginger, the sky filled with MH-47s. Three landed and lifted the survivors — and the dead — from the mountain. Seven American corpses were carried away in the bellies of the helicopters.
Back at Bagram, the medical staff was preparing for mass casualties. Word had come through that Cunningham was among the dead, but information on casualties up to that point in the war had been notoriously unreliable.
When the casualties arrived, Burlingame and the other doctors went to work in the operating room. All the wounded troops Cunningham and the other medics had treated in the battle survived.
As head of the surgical team, Burlingame also was responsible for filling out the medical paperwork on the deceased.
One by one, the doctor unzipped the body bags. As he methodically noted the likely causes of death (most had died instantly or almost instantly from bullet or fragmentation wounds), he found himself slightly relieved that each corpse wasn’t Cunningham’s.
“I was hoping against hope that he’d survived,” he said. Then he unzipped the last body bag and found himself staring at Cunningham’s lifeless face. It was too much, even for the experienced trauma surgeon, and he broke down.
“This was probably the least professional moment of my career,” he said. “It was a very, very difficult moment.”
Sharp though the pain of Cunningham’s death was to those who knew him here, they also know that he is one of the main reasons Burlingame only had seven, not 17, body bags to open.
Cunningham’s chain of command has written him up for the Air Force Cross, an award second only to the Medal of Honor. In the supporting documentation, it says: “As a result of his extraordinary heroism, his team returned 10 seriously wounded personnel to life-saving medical care.”
Of the 21 Air Force Crosses awarded to enlisted airmen since the medal was created in 1960, 11 were presented to pararescuemen.
Cunningham’s colleagues console themselves with the knowledge that their friend died doing the job he loved.
“He was right in the thick of it, doing it right up to the end,” Scott said. “Jason was right where every PJ wants to be. He was where guys needed him, and he was saving lives.”
CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE AIR FORCE CROSS
JASON D. CUNNINGHAM
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, U.S.C., awards the Air Force Cross to Senior
Airman Jason D. Cunningham for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as
a pararescueman near the village of Marzak in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan on 4 March 2002. On that proud day, Airman Cunningham was the primary Air Force Combat Search and Rescue medic assigned to a Quick Reaction Force tasked to recover
two American servicemen evading capture in austere terrain occupied by massed Al Qaida and Taliban forces. Shortly before
landing, his MH-47E helicopter received accurate rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, severely disabling the aircraft
and causing it to crash land. The assault force formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered three fatalities and five critical casualties. Despite effective enemy fire, and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage
of the aircraft in order to treat the wounded. As he moved his patients to a more secure location, mortar rounds began to
impact within fifty feet of his position. Disregarding this extreme danger, he continued the movement and exposed himself to
enemy fire on seven separate occasions. When the second casualty collection point was also compromised, in a display of
uncommon valor and gallantry, Airman Cunningham braved an intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade attack while repositioning the critically wounded to a third collection point. Even after he was mortally wounded and quickly deteriorating,
he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic. In the end, his distinct efforts led to the
successful delivery of ten gravely wounded Americans to life-saving medical treatment. Through his extraordinary heroism,
superb airmanship, aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Senior
Airman Cunningham reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
He would never hang up the phone without saying he loved me. He left nothing unsaid. I hear all about how he was a great soldier, but he was also a great man.
— Theresa Cunningham, widow
March 04, 2012
To the family and friends of Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham:
Please accept my remembrance of Jason on the anniversary of his passing and know that he will never be forgotten.
Peggy Childers, Carson City, Nevada
March 04, 2012
I hope that those who love Jason and who miss him so much will have found some peace in their own lives as they commemorate the tenth anniversary of his passing.
To Jason's parents, please be assured that his life, service and courage are not forgotten, even by those of us who were never fortunate enough to meet him. Your loss is great but your love and faith shine brightly across the miles and years.
Kim Straker, Maleny, Australia
March 03, 2012
It has been 10 years now since we said goodbye to our beautiful son, I still think about you every single day and I would give anything for 5 more minutes with you. Rest in peace son, I do get comfort knowing I will see you again
I love you forever Mom
Jackie Cunningham, Gallup, New Mexico
July 14, 2011
Just thinking how blessed we are to be Americans and remembering thoes to whom we owe our thanks, we will never forget. RIP
Jean Waller, New Jersey
May 02, 2011
Well J-boy I know that you had a part in bringing down Bin Laudin and I just wish you could have done it from this side. Still miss you and think of you daily. God Bless you.
March 09, 2011
To the family of Senior Airman Cunningham:
Please know that just as your loved one remains in your hearts and minds, his sacrifice, and that of your family, remains with the people he died defending. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel for his selflessness and bravery, or the heartache we feel for your loss. God bless and keep you always.
L Neal, North Carolina
March 04, 2011
To the family and friends of Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham:
Remembering Jason on the anniversary of his passing. May our fallen heroes never be forgotten!
Peggy Childers, Carson City, Nevada
December 11, 2010
Merry Christmas, I bought your favorite winter white chocolate ice cream yesterday and wish I could share it with you, I really miss you so much there is so much I want to tell you even though I still talk to you everyday I don't know if you hear me. Me and your dad hope and pray your girls will find us someday, if breaks our hearts that we are not a part of thier lives and have not seen them in 8 years or even seen pictures on what they look like now. We think of them all the time and hope they are happy and growing up to be as honorable as their dad. Merry Christmas Son, we will never stop loving our J-boy.
October 27, 2010
To the Cunningham Family.....I just saw the story of operation Anaconda on the Military Channel. Jason was a brave and courageous man...thank you for raising a hero, and sharing him with our country. My son also served in Afghanistan in 2006..we are all family....and we grieve your loss with you. I'm sure the last 8 years have been very hard for you...rest assured, your Jason will never be forgotten. May God hold you and keep you.
Gail Dodson, Cedar Lake, Indiana
June 04, 2010
Dear Jason, we never met and our paths never crossed, but I admired the courage and bravery in you. Your ultimate sacrificed had touched all those who knew you and also strangers like me. Thank you for keeping us safe, thank you for standing up for your country. We will forever remember you braveheart.
May 09, 2010
Thank you Senior Airman Cunningham for making the ultimate sacrifice and protecting our freedom. I did not know you and admire you heroism from what I have read. You are truely a hero and peace be with you and God Bless your family. Thank you soldier.
T A, Charleston, South Carolina
April 07, 2010
”Honor and Remember” - “Project Compassion” We love our Soldiers! We love our country and we cannot express enough love and compassion to the families of our fallen heroes. War does not discriminate – It breaks our hearts to see the faces of the fallen. We want to give this gift to the hero’s Mother, Father and/or spouse. We are a 501c3 nonprofit organization! Almost 2,100 portraits have been completed and shipped to the parents and or spouse - at no cost as this is a gift from one American to another!
This is a gift! We have wonderful sponsors who help with the costs, and want you know that everyone here at Project Compassion does and will always CARE.
Contact us directly at Projectcompassion@manti.com or go to www.heropaintings.com . If you have already had a portrait completed, we pray that you are enjoying the portrait and God Bless You.
Sincerely and Respectfully, Kenna, Manti, Utah
March 23, 2010
Eight years have passed since this young American Airman and many of his fellow troops lost their lives in Afghanistan. To those who loved them best in life, those years must seem endless but I sincerely hope that you have better times in which to relive all the special memories that only a family can share.
To Mr & Mrs. Cunningham - as a mother myself, I can hardly imagine the grief of losing a child, but I hope that the words written about your son, even by those of us not fortunate enough to know him in life, will bring you a measure of comfort. No matter how many years pass, his name will be remembered and his memory kept shining bright - even on the other side of thw world. Your son was a hero, and so were those who died with him that day - and while we all wish that it had been otherwise, you know that he was doing what he loved, and that as a direct result of the actions of Jason and his team mates, lives were saved that day. May God bless you all.
Respectfully, Kim Straker, Doha, Qatar
Kim Straker, Maleny, Australia
March 07, 2010
To the family and friends of Sr. Airman Jason Cunningham, I did not know him but I will not forget the sacrifice. May you experience God's presence I will keep you in my prayers.
Donna Gillette, Brick, New Jersey
February 18, 2010
Hey J-boy, take care of ol' Georgie for me, it helps me to know you love those old men and will see to them,that's partially why God made you an angel. Thinking of you still, Judy
Judy Norman, Carlsbad, New Mexico
February 05, 2010
Jason, As the dreaded month of March approaches, I can't beleive you have been gone from us for almost 8 years. I still think of you every single day, and miss you so very much. Words can never say how very proud we are of you, but how we wish we had 5 more minutes to tell you how much we love you. I know you and Pop are together now and that does give me comfort.I pray everyday we will get to see your girls someday.
We love you son Mom and Dad
Jackie Cunningham, Gallup, New Mexico
November 09, 2009
Near this Veterans Day 2009 I just wanted to remind everyone that it is not the President or the Congress that make sure we keep our Freedom...it is the soldiers. Let us NOT forget.
Judy Norman, Carlsbad, New Mexico
June 09, 2009
After all these years,I can finally enter something here. J-boy my thoughts are with you every day. Sometimes sad from missing you, but mostly funny and hilarious thoughts of days gone by with you and your mom and dad. I know they miss you more than words can ever say but we talk of you often and we will never forget, that goofy grin and those dancing green eyes. Miss you, love, Judy
Judy Norman, Carlsbad, New Mexico
April 23, 2009
Father we entrust our brother Jason to your mercy. You loved him greatly in this life: now that he is freed from all its cares, give him happiness and peace forever. Welcome him now into paradise where there will be no more sorrow, no more weeping or pain, but only peace and joy with Jesus your Son, and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. May God hold Jason in the palm of His hand. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. My deepest sympathies.
Michael Iezzi, Brookhaven, Pennsylvania
March 04, 2009
To the family of Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham:
Jason gave the ultimate sacrifice and will be held in the hearts of Americans forever. I cannot and will not let our fallen heroes be forgotten. My deepest sympathy to you. "Some gave all."
Peggy Childers "Don't Let The Memory Of Them Drift Away" www.IraqWarHeroes.org
Peggy Childers, Carson City, Nevada
May 26, 2008
Your memory is alive and inspiring others. My son is now serving at 'Camp Cunningham'. Godspeed
February 07, 2008
I still have the Airman magazine article that told Jason's story while he was going through his indoc and BUDS course. It inspired me to keep fit to fight. His sacrifice should remind us all that those on the front (and beyond the front we know) are there "so that others may live". God bless your family, Jason.
MSgt Benjamin Wallis, Robins AFB, Georgia
November 22, 2007
Since learning of this tragedy, I think and speak of Jason often. He is a hero and I will remember him as such. My son, now in the Air Force, also knew Jason, and sees reminders of him at the base he is now at. I still get tears, thinking about him. My deepest sympathy and respect to Theresa and the family. God Bless.
Bob Monaco, Tampa, Florida
November 07, 2007
You are remembered and respected. Thank you Sr. Airman Cunningham!
September 11, 2007
I just read about Jason and his acts of heroism and courage. How proud and sad you must feel. The freedoms we enjoy are paid for with the blood of loved ones. As Americans, we must remember and retell these tales so there is no repeat of past events. I hope God's love has helped ease your pain. Jason's deeds live on.
Janelle Cook, Bedford, Texas
September 01, 2007
I am the wife of a police officer who has worn Senior Airman Jason D Cunningham's name on his wrist for about 3 1/2 years now. I see it everyday and have thought of the family that Airman Cunningham left behind. I am proud that my husband took the time to buy the braclet and wear this brave man's name. I would like to thank Airman Cunningham for bravely going where others will not. It takes a special person to obey orders and do what is not easy nor appreciated. Thank you and I will always think of Airman Cunningham as we raise our three boys to appreciate and respect the men in uniform. Sincerely, Chirstine Mastrocola
August 15, 2007
There is nothing that I can say or do to take away the pain or bring you peace in your time of sorrow, but I will offer you and your family my heart felt condolences. I also offer you my prayers that in time the pain will easy and the memories of your HERO will carry you through each day and night. I want to thank your HERO, for his/her selfless act of becoming a member of the armed forces, his/her willingness to defend the United States of America, all that we hold sacred and for the sacrifice that will forever be etched in the memories of all those who knew him/her. Though tears can never bring him/her back, we hope that our tears express our gratitude for the sacrifice that he/she made and our sorrow at his/her passing. I believe for every fallen HERO there is a star shining brightly up above to remind us of the precious gift we were given.
Your mission on earth is complete and you are now a member of GOD’s Heavenly armed forces. Stand down brave warrior and take your rightful place in Heaven with all the HEROES who have passed before.
I made a special promise to LE RON A. WILSON, a dear family friend who joined the Army with three other friends, one of whom is my son (Le Ron was killed in action on 07/06/07 at the age of 18) on the day he was laid to rest as I touched his coffin, that I would never forget him nor would I forget those that gave their lives for our country before him, with him and after him and so when I came across www.legacy.com, I thought what a great way to keep my promise to Le Ron, so I will continue to leave tributes in each guest book until the day there is no longer the need to leave these tributes to a FALLEN HERO.
REST IN PEACE, HERO, YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN!!
PROUD MOTHER OF A U.S. SOLDIER
Currently stationed in Germany
Althea Barrett(Queens, NY)
July 21, 2007
I would just like to say thank you to the men like Jason who died for this country. Having graduated from the same high school as Jason, the memorial built in his memory there helped in my decision to join the military. It is one thing I have done with my life that I know I will never regret and can only hope that I can live up to the values that Jason displayed that day at Takur Ghar. The story of his bravery is told in the book The Night Stalkers by Michael J. Durant. My deep condolences go out to the family and I want them to know that many people still believe in the cause that Jason died for and still fight for the same cause! ARMY STRONG Feel free to contact me!
Michael Gillitzer, Farmington, New Mexico
July 05, 2007
Thank you for the sacrifice made by Senior Airman Cunningham and the sacrifice made by everyone who loves and misses him! May God bless all of you!!
June 27, 2007
I had the extreme pleasure of having Jason in my workcenter at the Transient Line, Naval Air Station, Naples, Itay, while he was still in the U.S. Navy. He was my pride and joy as the "Mother Hen" of our Transient Line team. There is nothing I can say about him that those who knew him don't already know. He was crazy about Theresa, his baby girl and his family. He was a beautiful young man that lit up the room when he walked in. I am only finding out about Jason' death, coincidentally I was flicking through the channels on the television, just in time to hear his name and see a picture shown of him on Dateline NBC, which was airing the show "Rescue on Robert's Ridge". I was immediately in tears, for his family, for the world who has lost a beautiful soul. I am not surprised of his heroism. He was that kind of person all the time. I'm certain that the Lord is so enjoying his company. Much love to the entire Cunningham family. And to Jason - you already know what I'd say to you.
Kelly Harrell, Tampa, Florida
March 03, 2007
To the Cunningham family; I previously signed Jason's guest book. From the most inner part of my heart I am so sorry Jason was taken from you. I visit ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY frequently usually in section 60, but weekly I go over to section 66 and I visit Jason and Matt. Jason tomorrow it will be 5 years since you were taken. You are my hero and you will NEVER be forgotten.
Tom Gugliuzza-Smith, Springfield, Virginia
February 27, 2007
WITH DEEPEST SYMPATHY AND GREAT HUMILITY, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SACRIFICE.
October 02, 2006
Scott Chamberland, St.Agatha, Maine
October 01, 2006
Remembering Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, with a Multitude of Thanks for his Courage, Service and Dedication to our Country and for Freedom.
May Jason rest in God's Loving Care and know that he will NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.
May God's Grace and Comfort, continue to be with the Cunningham family.
From the sister of a Fallen young hero, who made the Ultimate Sacrifice in Vietnam. KIA~1967.
" What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose,
for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us"
~ Helen Keller ~
May the Peace of God and the memories of Jason, remain in your heart always. I am so sorry for your loss.
Garnet Jenkins, Grand Junction, Colorado
August 08, 2006
To my dear close friend and brother in arms, Jason Dean Cunningham and his wife, also my dear close friend, Theresa, as well as their daughters, of which I have only met the eldest. Of course, to Mr & Mrs Cunningham.
Having lost contact with Jason and Theresa after my transfer to Washington D.C. in '97, I have only just recently discovered that we have lost Jason in the war.
Theresa, my dear friend, if you are reading this, please know that I loved Jason as a brother and you as the sister that I never had.
We share many great memories of our time in Italy together as friends on all the adventures we had. I will never forget Jason being so obsessed with the game Resident Evil to the point that he found a helo pilots chair with a five point harness in it and sat in it to play his game for hours on end. I will never forget the kick to the face I took from Jason during my black belt test in Tae-Kwon-Do (lol). I will never forget the trip that you and I took Theresa, down one of the many scenic coasts of The Bay of Napoli. Do you remember?
I know that Jason would not have wanted it any other way than the way it is. Everyone who knew Jason knows that he lived to be in the thick of it all. There are many who are alive today because of Jason.
It is a horrible thing that we must carry with us through the rest of our lives. I know that this has been said by many so it can sound meaningless to some. Jason Dean Cunningham is truly a hero in my eyes.
I came close to almost loosing my brother Rick in Iraq and until just recently had considered myself one of the lucky ones to not have to experience that. I don't feel so lucky any more.
Jason Dean Cunningham is truly a hero. This derserves repeating.
Theresa, If you happen upon this, please try to contact me. My heart goes out to you and your two daughters. I can't even begin to fathom the pain you have felt for the past 4 1/2 years. I only wish I would have known sooner.
If there is anything at all that you need, I MEAN ANYHING, you have only to ask.
Although I have never met Jason's' family, I give to you my deepest, most sincere condolences. If you ever need to talk about Jason, please feel Free to contact me as well via my email address. I would love to hear from all of you, especially you Theresa.
I want you to know that Jason will always remain alive in my heart, as I know he will in yours as well as in the hearts of his family
With Great Pride and Adoration, I send my love.
Former ABH2, USN, NAVSUPPACT, Capodichino, Italy
Andrew Armermann, Gainesville, Virginia
August 02, 2006
I Knew Jason when he was in the medical, 18 delta coarse at Fort Bragg. He was a friend of mine, Truely a dedicated man to his country, medicine, and his family. He will be truely missed. My heart goes out to his family who have aswell gave so much.
Regina Krol, Raeford, North Carolina
June 12, 2006
Take comfort in knowing that now you have a special guardian angel to watch over you.
mark malmgren, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
March 24, 2006
Jason, you symbolize what the PJ is all about past, present, and future. Thank you for what you did for this country. You are the very essence of what a fine american citizen is. Rest in peace.
USAF "Blue Blanket"
Steve Stahl, Florence, Kentucky
February 23, 2006
My heartfelt sympathy to the Cunningham family in the loss of Jason. I did not know Jason, but my heart is broken and I am saddened for your loss of such a fine young person and hero. May God bring you peace in your heart as you reflect on all the wonderful memories you hold so close. Please know that you are in my heart and prayers. Jason next month will be 4 years since you were taken. I live close to Arlington National Cemetery and I will stop and pray for you, your family, friends/buddies. You are a hero and you will never be forgotten.
I send each of you a hug from the most inner part of my heart.
Love and Peace
"To live in the hearts
of those you leave behind
is never to die"
Tom Gugliuzza-Smith, Springfield, Virginia
January 27, 2006
I remember reading the book None Braver by Michael Hirsch, when I first learned of the sacrifice that Jason made. I was deeply inspired that he was serving our wonderful country and layed down his life for our freedoms. Although I'm only fifteen years old I am already looking foward to a career in the military where I can hopefully serve with as much courage that Jason showed. As Jared Marquis said "I did it for my brothers I did it for my team..." I feel that someway some how I have to live up to those words. Jason your my inspiration.
Kathryn Pollock, San Antonio, Texas
January 12, 2006
"...We do this, that OTHERS may live"
Jason, you lived and died by the core value "SERVICE BEFORE SELF" For this, we will never forget you. -Alpha Flt, 227th, Glade Search & Rescue School
"We will see you where the skies are blue..."
Airman 1st Class Matthew Kaye, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
December 09, 2005
Please Don't stand and Weep
Those men I had to save
Not because of Courage
or because I'm Brave
Not because of Orders
or because it was my Dream
I did it for my Brothers
I did it for the Team
So Please Don't weep for me
for all I had to give
I did it for a reason
"So That Others May Live"
Jared Marquis, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
August 10, 2005
Wanda Cobb & Family, Jax, Florida
May 29, 2005
I will keep you and your family in my prayers. May we all remember you with pride and honor your life by living as the best that we can be.
Pleasant Hill, California
May 26, 2005
My thoughts and prayers are with SrA Cunningham's family during this Memorial Day. I will forever be grateful to him for preserving & securing the ideals of our great nation. God Bless.
CMSgt Franciska Blankenfeld
United States Air Force
Franciska Blankenfeld, Colorado Springs, Colorado
April 29, 2005
09/16/02 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, a pararescueman who lost his life in Afghanistan while saving 10 lives and making it possible for seven others who were killed to come home, was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross here Sept. 13.
The Air Force Cross is awarded for extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of our nation. It is second only to the Medal of Honor.
"We gather to salute his bravery and to reward his heroism," said Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James Roche. "We gather to pay tribute to an airman who, on the field of battle, not only gave his life serving his nation, but also gave his life serving his fellow Americans."
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper presented the Air Force Cross to Cunningham's wife, Theresa. Cunningham's parents, Lawrence and Jackie Cunningham, also received medals from Jumper.
"In the frailty of our human existence we are ill equipped to express the extremes of our emotions," Jumper said. "For in the peak of our love or the depths of our sorrow, we have only feeble words that never truly capture the peaks and valleys of our feelings.
"I stand before you today in the humble attempt to assemble the words to honor a hero, knowing in advance that my attempt will fall short of the tribute that is his due."
Cunningham, a Carlsbad, N.M., native, joined the Air Force's elite combat rescue program and graduated pararescue technical training here in June 2001. He was deployed to Southwest Asia in February 2002.
On March 4, Cunningham was the primary Air Force combat search and rescue medic assigned to a quick reaction force in Afghanistan. The force was sent to rescue two American servicemen evading capture in austere terrain occupied by al-Qaida and Taliban forces.
Before landing, his MH-47E Chinook helicopter received rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire, disabling the aircraft and forcing it to crash-land. Crewmembers formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered three fatalities and five critical casualties.
The citation accompanying Cunningham's Air Force Cross reads, "Despite effective enemy fire, and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft in order to treat the wounds. As he moved his patients to a more secure location, mortar rounds began to impact within 50 feet of his position.
"Disregarding this extreme danger, he continued the movement and exposed himself to enemy fire on seven separate occasions. When the second casualty collection point was also compromised, in a display of uncommon valor and gallantry, Airman Cunningham braved an intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade attack while repositioning the critically wounded to a third collection point."
The citation continues, "Even after he was mortally wounded and quickly deteriorating, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic. In the end, his distinct efforts led to the successful delivery of 10 gravely wounded Americans to life-saving medical treatment."
In remarks that seemed to capture Cunningham's spirit, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald Murray, said, "The former Navy petty officer considered joining the SEALS, but became an Air Force PJ. His reasoning? While other special operators search and destroy, PJs search and save."
Cunningham was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on March 11. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)
CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE AIR FORCE CROSS
JASON D. CUNNINGHAM
An Air Force Friend
April 13, 2005
Thank you SrA cunningham for your outstanding service. You will always be remembered in our hearts.
Jerry Ramos, Suisun