In his four years stationed at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, former Cpl. Joe Potter had never met Cpl. Jason Dunham.
Potter joined the Marine Corps the year that Dunham died. But Dunham’s legacy as a combat warrior and Medal of Honor recipient who gave his life to save his fellow Marines from an insurgent’s grenade in Iraq in April 2004 had been well ingrained in Potter’s memory during the four years he spent working as an expeditionary airfield specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron.
Since hanging up his uniform, Potter has worked in his father’s painting business, often listening to music to pass the time. “Music is a hobby,” he said. While he was in the Corps, “I rapped a lot.” What he hoped could be a music career took a back seat to marriage and a child and the responsibilities of family. Then, six months ago, he picked it back up, prompted by a catchy song he heard on his iPod. “I was outside, painting with my dad,” he recalled. “I wanted to do something.”
That’s when Jason Dunham came to mind. “We had all heard about him,” he recalled. “He’s just like a legendary hero.” So he jotted all sorts of ideas that came to him, “and before I knew it, I had verses down.” He set out to learn more about Dunham, devouring the book, The Gift of Valor, and pouring through whatever he could find online. “He’s a modern-day hero. He gave his life. It takes so much courage,” he said.
Potter, 26, knew that Dunham shared the same birthday as the Marine Corps itself: Nov. 10. So a week ago, with the final verses completed, and photos and images collected and edited into a video, he recorded the song and posted it on YouTube the following day. He sent out scores of emails to people he knows and others he’s never met, including a group of Blue Star Mothers, promoting the video and pointing out the site on YouTube.
“Last night, Corporal Dunham’s mother called me,” Potter said, speaking Nov. 10 from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. Her call surprised and moved him. “I was trying to explain the idea, as best as I could,” he said. “I said, I hope that writing this song doesn’t bring back any pain.'”
Debra Dunham reminded him that Jason would have turned 30, he said, and she reiterated to Potter a simple message. “Never take anything for granted,” he said. “She said, ‘you just don’t know how long you’re going to have it.”