Robert Batten Dunham – Captain, United States Army

Dunham, Robert Batten
January 16, 1924 – August 30, 1952
United States Military Academy, Class of1946

rbdunham-01 Robert Batten Dunham NO. 16136 CLASS OF 1946  Died 30 August 1952 north of Yonchon, Korea, aged 28 years. Interment: Arlington National Cemetery.

Robert Batten (Bob) Dunham was born 16 January 1924 at Fort Totten, New York. His father, Colonel William H. Dunham, USMA 1919, spent his career in the Coast Artillery Corps. Bob and his family lived in many places while he was growing up, but he particularly enjoyed his father’s tour in the then Territory of Hawaii from 1935-39. He enjoyed tennis, horseback riding and surfing. During this period he was very active in Junior ROTC and was selected as the outstanding cadet in his company at Roosevelt High School. He received the American Legion Best Soldier Medal in 1939 and was a member of the championship small bore rifle team. Spending his youth on Army posts gave Bob a strong desire to go to West Point. Because of his father’s transfers, Bob spent each year of high school in a different school. His senior year he attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC, but ended up graduating from North High School in Omaha, Nebraska. From high school, he attended Sullivan’s Preparatory School in Washington and was able to obtain an appointment to West Point, entering in July 1942 with the Class of 1945.

Bob’s ’45 roommates remember him as a gentle, soft-spoken person who was always fun, always helpful and usually in trouble. His troubles stemmed usually from his concern for his fellow plebes. Unfortunately, Bob’s moving from high school to high school came back to haunt him academically. This was especially true for plebe math and he was turned out at Christmas time. One of his roommates, Ren Fortier ’45, elected to remain at West Point over their short Christmas leave to coach Bob for his exam; to both’s amazement, Bob passed. Unfortunately, he was turned out again in the spring and was turned back to the Class of 1946. Ren fondly recalls two characteristics of Bob: (1) he had a tremendous love for people and was a wonderful friend, and (2) he had a tremendous capacity to “spec it” when he didn’t understand it. He got through that first semester by sheer grit.

Things were much easier for Bob the second time around. He still struggled academically, but managed to keep his head above water. He went out of his way to help his new plebe classmates and is fondly remembered by many of them. When graduation rolled around, Bob went into the Infantry.

Following graduation leave, Bob joined his Infantry and Tech Service classmates at Fort Benning, Georgia for the infamous Branch Immaterial Course. Following  the Infantry Basic Officers Course at Fort Benning, Bob was assigned to Korea with the 7th Infantry Division. He served with both the 32nd and 31st Infantry Regiments and was an advisor to the Korean Military Academy at Kangnung.

Bob returned to the States in early 1949 with assignment back to Fort Benning, Georgia with the 3rd Infantry Division. Shortly after arriving at Fort Benning, he went to Charlottesville, Virginia to see his parents, and through some friends of theirs, met Patricia Day. He served as aide de camp to Major General Percy Clarkson, Commanding General, 3rd Infantry Division. In the late summer of 1950, Bob completed jump school at Benning, and on 21 October 1950 married Patricia (Pat) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bob and Pat’s first assignment together was at Fort Campbell, Kentucky where Bob was assigned to the 188th Airborne Infantry, 11th Airborne. Division.

Bob never lost his concern for others and his desire to be helpful. Arthur Shemwell, USMA ’50, recalls that he and his new bride shared a duplex with Bob and Pat at Fort Campbell in late 1950 and 1951. Arthur remembers that Bob was invariably cheerful despite the long days and weeks to which they we committed in training recalled reservists, and then their own paratroop units for Korea. To the Shemwells, Bob was great friend and neighbor. On 5 October 1951, Bob and Pat became the proud parents of a son, Robert Batten Dunham Jr.  Bob loved his family. A loving and caring husband, he adored Bob Jr. A classmate, Ed Chyenoweth, also at Campbell during this period, enjoyed the Dunhams’ hospitality on several occasions. Ed recalls Bob as friendly, outgoing and conscientious, a damn fine soldier, husband and father. When Bob Jr. was three months old, Bob received orders to Korea.

Upon arrival in Korea, Bob was given command of L Company, 38th Infantry 2nd Division. Walt Root, USMA ’45 commanded adjacent K Company. A classmate, Rusty Brunson, recalls a quick and most enjoyable visit to Bob’s command bunker on the front lines in early 1952. Bob was a delight to be around. He had a playful sense of humor while at the same time being a conscientious and highly competent officer.  Shortly after Rusty’s visit, in April 1952, the 38th Infantry was ordered to Kojedo Island to guard prisoners. Walt Root remembers that Bob still commanded L Company and he still had K Company during the uprisings on Kojedo. Bob’s brother Bill, who was a major at 2nd Division Headquarters at the time, recalls that Bob considered Kojedo one of his most interesting assignments. Bob told Bill that General Boatner, who had been sent to quell the uprisings, was a case of the right man at the right place at the right time. Bob didn’t think there were many general officers who could have handled the situation as well.

When Bob’s battalion was returned to the mainland in the vicinity of Old Baldy, Bob was given command of Service Company, 38th Infantry. This was in accordance with division policy to rotate line commanders to the rear after so long on the line. On 30 August 1952, Bob was in his tent when he heard explosions. He rushed out and saw that some of his men had wandered into an uncharted “friendly” minefield. Without hesitation, Bob organized and led a rescue party into the minefield to evacuate his wounded troops. Bob was leading the last stretcher party down the trail when another mine was detonated, killing him instantly. He was survived by his wife Pat, his son Bob Jr., his parents and brother Bill.

Bob was awarded the Soldier’s Medal posthumously. This award, one which is seldom made, is given for heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The citation for Bob’s medal reads, “Upon arriving there, he took charge of the situation and directed the evacuation of the seriously wounded. Captain Dunham, upon leading the last stretcher party down the trail, was instantly killed when another mine was detonated. His aggressive spirit, devotion to duty and willingness to sacrifice himself to provide for his men reflects the highest credit upon himself and the military service.”

His brother Bill, who visited the scene shortly afterwards, says he is sure Bob knew exactly what he was getting into when he led the rescue parties in to recover the personnel. In Bill’s words, “He was never one to flinch from doing what he thought was right. This may sound trite, but I think he personified ‘Duty, Honor, Country’ as much as any Academy graduate I ever knew.”

In 1954, two years after Bob’s death, his father received a letter from a young Korean man. This Korean had been Bob’s interpreter when Bob commanded L Company on the front lines. Bob had written a letter for this young Korean recommending that he be accepted for a scholarship in the United States. The young man, Kwan Tae Sup, had just learned of Bob’s death and wrote to Colonel Dunham to express his sympathy. Excerpts from this letter, expressed in broken English, reflect the qualities that all who knew him found in Bob Dunham:

“I express deeply my condolence on his death from the bottom of my heart. We re live in the just like a dream and life is very short and all is vanity in this human’s world. I can not help thinking back of him, it was some day afternoon enemy projectile being poured fiercely upon friendly troops, when I got to CP for report the enemy situation he was playing harmonica in the bunker without worrying. I found out that he was calmness efficient … he was praised by all of love co officer and enlisted men. I had chance several time talked frankly with him in his, room he showed me his wife’s picture and newly borned his baby picture…. I know he was so gallant officer and good personality ever I met, and he graduated the West Point and his future is promising but regretly he sacrificed him self for saving of others finally. I believe he is to be expected received by the heavenly father who art in glorious throne. He has shed his all good for tightness between Korea/America and free nations. I will not forget him even he has gone, I believe I will meet him in the heaven in future ……”

These simple yet eloquent words are a fitting tribute to a brave soldier, a loving and caring husband and father, and a classmate of whom the Class of 1946 can be very proud. The “Well Done!” from his classmates and all USMA graduates comes from the heart, and is an expression of pride and admiration.

’46 Memorial Article Project and his wife Pat.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 01/16/1924
  • DATE OF DEATH: 08/30/1952

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