Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jerome Potter laid to rest

People who knew Jerome Potter grieved his loss Saturday.

People who did not know Jerome Potter saluted his memory.

An Army that saw Jerome Potter as one of its finest sons decorated him with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

And it promoted him from private first class to specialist.

On Armed Forces Day, Potter was in the hearts of more than 150 people gathered at Mountain View Funeral Home in Lakewood.

Tears of family and friends rained inside the Valley Chapel for Potter, a 24-year-old who grew up in Yelm and Olympia. He was killed May 3 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.

“I couldn’t ask for a better soldier. A better driver. A better person,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Rusto, Potter’s squad leader in the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment from the 1st Cavalry Division.

“Valor. Courage. Dedication. That was Potter,” Rusto added.

U.S. flags flapped briskly in the breeze outside the chapel, held in the hands of strangers.

“We’re here mainly to honor the family,” said Joel Cowboy Oestriech of the Washington Patriot Guard Riders. The men and women, most of whom arrived on motorcycles, lined the drive leading to the chapel.

Their standards held 43 flags, one for every branch of the Armed Forces, a POW/MIA flag and more than 30 Stars and Stripes.

A 30-foot-by-50-foot U.S. flag soared toward the heavens above the chapel, held aloft by a Lakewood Fire Department ladder truck.

Red stripes ran down the trouser legs of six Lakewood Fire Honor Guardsmen posted along the road. “It signifies blood. It signifies courage, honor and dignity,” fire Lt. Pat MacNealy said.

Potter spent about two years as a forestry firefighter.

The Lakewood honor guard members didn’t know the young man. But he was their brother.

As Potter grew up in Yelm, he often sneaked onto Fort Lewis to watch troops train in the woods.

In October, he went with his unit from Fort Hood, Texas, to Iraq as the soldier he always wanted to be.

A video of photographs set to music showed Jerome Potter as a baby in his crib, a boy with his dog, a youth climbing a tree, a firefighter with an ax, a camouflage-clad soldier at parade rest.

In the background, the band Green Day sang: “Summer has come and passed; the innocent can never last; wake me up when September ends.”

The film concluded, the last notes of taps and the echoes of military-salute gunshots still on the wind, friends and strangers walked away from Jerome Potter’s funeral as one.

Their last image of the day not of a man’s love for his country, but of a mother’s love for her son.

Holly Burson walked slowly to her son’s casket, already slipped inside its mausoleum space, and touched it one last time.

From the Olympian

Related Link:
Jerome Potter remembered at memorial

Related Link:
Jerome Potter reported killed in Iraq