Phillips, Michael M.

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Phillips, Michael M.


Married; children: two.


Home—Washington, DC. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer and journalist. Wall Street Journal, staff reporter.


The Gift of Valor: A War Story, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Michael M. Phillips is a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal. An experienced war correspondent, Phillips has served several tours of duty in Iraq embedded with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. His experiences covering the bloody reality of the Iraq war serve as background for Phillips's first book, The Gift of Valor: A War Story. In this book, Phillips tells the wartime story of twenty-two-year-old Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, the first U.S. Marine since the Vietnam War to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military distinction, for his bravery and valor in combat. The medal, however prestigious, was awarded posthumously—Dunham died of wounds received while protecting his squadmates and fellow Marines from a grenade attack. In the book, Phillips reports in a detailed but matter-of-fact way, telling Dunham's story from his youth to his combat tour in Iraq. Phillips's book "tells the story of Cpl. Dunham's heroic actions, but it also tells the story of the heroic actions of medics, nurses and doctors, of social workers, friends, families and communities," remarked Dale Collum on the UCL Staff Book Reviews Web site. "The book ties together the effects of war on not only the combatant, but also those that support him," Collum stated. "The Gift of Valor has a strong moral sense, but doesn't preach. It merely shows what happened—not how or why—to a typical Marine, and in doing that, it fires the imagination in a way few news stories can," commented Diane Scharper in the Weekly Standard.

Phillips begins his story with details of Dunham's life as the son of working-class parents in western New York. "An indifferent student but an outstanding athlete, Dunham joined the Marine Corps right out of high school," reported Tom Miller on Dunham thrived in the military, a strong, handsome, and likable young man with a natural flair for leadership and genuine concern for his fellow Marines. He had plans to attend college after leaving the Marines, the intention of eventually marrying, but while in the military, he made the most of his experiences and opportunities, quickly advancing to the rank of corporal. Considered by many of his fellow Marines to be an example of the best the Corps had to offer, Dunham was a "squad leader who believed in leading by example," noted Mary Ann Grossman in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Dunham was so dedicated to the men in his squad that he had recently voluntarily extended his tour of duty so that he could continue to lead them and look out for their welfare.

On April 14, 2004, Dunham and his nine-man infantry squad were called upon to help rescue a group of fellow Marines caught in a brutal ambush. As the mission progressed, Dunham began to search a group of vehicles parked in an alleyway, Scharper reported. When he approached a suspicious Toyota Land Cruiser, an enraged Iraqi lunged out of the car and began fighting with Dunham. Two other Marines, Private First Class Kelly Miller and Lance Corporal Bill Hampton, ran forward to help Dunham in his struggle. To the horror of the other Marines in the area, a grenade blast abruptly tore through the air, severely wounding Dunham and his two comrades, and destroying Dunham's Kevlar helmet. The frenzied race to save the wounded men began. Dunham was hurried to hospitals in Iraq, Germany, and Washington, DC, but to no avail. He died from his wounds a few days later, on April 22. Miller and Hampton survived.

In the aftermath of the event, it was determined that the Iraqi insurgent had leaped forward with the live grenade, determined to kill as many Marines as he could. In the struggle, Dunham had apparently caused the Iraqi to drop the grenade. It was concluded that Dunham had sacrificed himself to protect his fellow Marines by clamping his Kevlar helmet over the live grenade and wrapping his body around the helmet. This selfless act of heroism and sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor.

To construct his story and reconstruct the events leading up to Dunham's sacrifice, Phillips conducted interviews with dozens of Marines and other military service members, as well as civilians, doctors, nurses, medical personnel, and others who knew or who tried to save the mortally wounded Dunham. He also draws on letters and e-mails to friends and family in the United States, personal journals and diary entries, medical records, and military documents pertaining to Dunham's nomination for the Medal of Honor. He delved into Dunham's life in the small town of Scio, New York, interviewing friends, relatives, neighbors, and, especially, Dunham's shocked and grieving parents, Dan and Deb. "The depth of Phillips' investigation makes his book spellbinding," commented Henry Zeybel in Air Power History.

"This realistic, gritty portrayal of loss and its aftermath personalizes events behind daily headlines," commented Lynn Nutwell in a School Library Journal review. "Writing in spare, objective prose, Phillips drives the story forward with separate incidents, each foreshadowing other incidents, increasing tension, so that one feels tragedy approaching as if it were a physical presence," Scharper observed. Kliatt reviewer John E. Boyd stated, "This honest, realistic, and hard-hitting picture" of the realities of modern warfare "is a must for any YA considering enlisting in the military." Scharper called Phillips's book "well-researched and artfully crafted."



Air Power History, summer, 2006, Henry Zeybel, review of The Gift of Valor: A War Story, p. 52.

Marine Corps Gazette, September, 2005, Thomas J. Lucier, "No Greater Love," review of The Gift of Valor, p. 90.

Saint Paul Pioneer Press, June 22, 2005, Mary Ann Grossman, "The Gift of Valor: A Soldier's Valor, a Gripping Story of Iraq War," review of The Gift of Valor.

School Library Journal, October, 2005, Lynn Nutwell, review of The Gift of Valor, p. 201.

Weekly Standard, February 13, 2006, Diane Scharper, "A Quiet American; the Life and Death of Cpl. Jason Dunham," review of The Gift of Valor.

ONLINE, (March 27, 2008), Tom Miller, review of The Gift of Valor.

Random House Web site, (March 27, 2008), author profile.

UCL Staff Book Reviews, (August 10, 2007), Dale Collum, review of The Gift of Valor.

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Phillips, Michael M.

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