The mystery Marine who touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands with his YouTube patriotic poem has come forward.
He is 30-year-old Marine Staff Sgt. Lawrence E. Dean II, stationed at the Cherry Point base in North Carolina. The Conway, S.C., native writes and performs rap-style poetry using the stage name "Life." And he is known all over North Carolina, where he is an inspiration to countless friends and strangers alike.
When the YouTube video of Dean reciting the poem he wrote about defending America's freedom garnered close to 400,000 views in just two days earlier this week, he decided to reveal his identity and speak to FOXNews.com.
"It almost leaves you speechless," he said on Wednesday of the reaction to his poetry. "Just to see it affected that many people — if it made that many people think, it was worth every bit of that three minutes. It wasn't about me solely. It pretty much said what we live. It's touching people the way I intended it to."
Dean, who works on aviation electronics for the Marines, has never served in Afghanistan or Iraq, though he said he'd go "this second" if asked. But the poem he wrote — which begins, "And she called …" — isn’t about the experience of fighting a war. It's about what the armed forces do.
"It's about the military service and the reason we do things," he explained. "We just defend the country, no questions asked. As a family, we do it. The poem was just utmost admiration and respect for the individuals that are there. ... They've answered the country's call."
He was compelled to write the poem about two-and-a-half years ago, he said, when his grandmother asked him one day what would make him go to war.
"The answer I can give is just, 'Because she called,'" said Dean, referring to America. "That was the best answer I could give that day."
But he was also deeply affected by a visit to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers once stood in lower Manhattan and where all that's left is a vast, gaping pit. In his poem, he refers to "911 distress signal" the United States sent from the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, 2001.
"TV doesn't do it any justice," he said. "It came about from being there and seeing the magnitude. It wasn't your front yard or your school or where your parents came from. When you see Ground Zero, you realize these are actual people. This could have been your neighborhood."
The Marine Corps, where Dean has built his career for the past 12 years, has been amazed at the response to the poetry reading of one of their own.
"All the Marines I know who have seen the video have been very impressed by it," said Mike Barton, the deputy director of Cherry Point's joint public affairs office. "We're waiting to see what happens next."
The video that ultimately wound up on YouTube was shot spontaneously about a year ago, when a young Marine whose room Dean was inspecting asked him to recite his poem on camera so that he could send it to his family to explain why he was going off to war.
Dean never intended for it to be posted on the Internet — and isn't sure who first put the clip up last year (the user's screen name is studman20673), though he guesses it was the young Marine who filmed him. He didn't even know the video had been on YouTube until he read about it on FOXNews.com.
The clip was picked up by Birmingham, Ala., resident Matthew Denton, who put it on his own YouTube page. Denton was so inspired by Dean's poem that he did what he could to track him down — with no luck, until Tuesday, when the two finally had the chance to speak on the phone.
Poetry and music have been Dean's passions for years.
"That's what I do when I'm not at work," he said.
And many have been moved to tears by the words Dean wrote that day his grandmother challenged him to explain why he serves his country.
"She called," Dean says in the videotaped poem as he stands before a U.S. Marine Corps crest hanging on the barracks wall. "From the bowels of Ground Zero/she sent this 911 distress signal/because she was in desperate need of a hero/and didn’t have time to decipher what to call 'em/so she called 'em all her children/and said, 'I am America, and I’m calling on the land of the free.'/So they answered ... /You see, someone attempted to choke the voice/of the one who gave us the right for choice/and now she was callin'./And somebody had to answer./Who was going to answer?/So they did."
But it's not only through his writing that Dean — who has an 8-year-old daughter — manages to make an impact on people. It's in his everyday life, according to those who know him.
"Everybody loves him," said one of his close friends in the Marines, who asked not to be identified. "He has got to be the most motivated and inspirational person I have ever met in my life. He speaks from the heart."
As for the response to his poem, well, Dean is uncharacteristically at a loss for words to describe it.
"How do you explain the unexplainable?" he said. "It's a blessing. A lot of people that have to answer that call appreciate it. That's bigger than me."