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Remembering Doc Todd, a rapper who helped other veterans

ERIC DEGGANS, HOST:

Today, we remember a former Navy corpsman who served in Afghanistan. A corpsman is essentially a medic. George Michael Todd died earlier this month in Atlanta. The cause was sudden cardiac death, and he was 38 years old. He was also known as Doc Todd, a hip-hop artist. In 2017, NPR's Elizabeth Blair talked to Todd about his album "Combat Medicine." She has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: George Michael Todd had a few nicknames - Doc, Mik. He was a big guy with piercing blue eyes and a big personality. Pastor Kris McDaniel spoke at his funeral.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRIS MCDANIEL: First time I met Mik, he came up to me after church - I had just finished preaching a sermon - and just, like, swallowed me up in a hug. And the first thing he says - I'm a rapper. And I was like, sure, you are a rapper.

BLAIR: He really was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

DOC TODD: (Rapping) The struggle is real. Found a feast and lost a soul. Eventually, my drinking - it got out of control. There in darkness I roamed, struggling to find home. See, suddenly, death didn't feel so alone...

BLAIR: Doc Todd was born in Memphis. He joined the Navy in his mid-20s. In 2009, he was in Afghanistan during an American push in the Helmand River Valley, which was controlled by the Taliban. Todd treated blast and burn injuries. The heat was also brutal, says Colonel Eric Meador.

ERIC MEADOR: The guys just couldn't stay cooled off. So Doc Todd and some of the other guys started pulling guys off the line at about a third of a time and tell them to jump in the canal, you know? So, hey, these guys are still fighting. Doc and his crew grabs a bunch of guys - jump in the canal, get wet, get back out. Now, you get back up on the line, continue fighting, and let's rotate. Get the next guys in there. So that's what he did on that day and probably saved a lot of guys from being heat casualties.

BLAIR: Todd lost close friends during that battle. When he returned to the U.S., he had PTSD. In 2017, he told me it took several years before he got help. Throughout, he wrote rhymes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DOC TODD: The struggle is real. Found a feast and lost a soul. Eventually, my drinking - it got out of control. There in darkness I roamed, struggling to find homes. See, suddenly, death didn't feel so alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

DOC TODD: (Rapping) 22 a day, destination unknown. It could have been avoided if you picked up the phone. But now you're gone, so I guess all we get is the tone. Nothing but blowing weeds, overgrown, pushing up stones...

BLAIR: Doc Todd's music is passed around widely among veterans. His most popular song is called "Not Alone."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DOC TODD: And "Not Alone" is about empowerment. "Not Alone" is about taking charge of your life, taking charge of your transition.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

DOC TODD: (Rapping) You not alone. Just pick up the phone. You not alone, man. Just pick up the phone. You not alone. Yeah, pick up the phone. I'm right here, and I love you guys.

BLAIR: Doc Todd was known to constantly pick up the phone to check in with fellow vets. Before he deployed to Afghanistan, he fell head over heels in love with his future wife. At his funeral, Abby Todd read a letter he wrote to her from Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABBY TODD: (Reading) I dream about you almost every night. You soothe me so much and turn my nervous energy into something positive. You make me a better person, and I thank you deeply for that. It's crazy. No matter how much I wash my feet, they still stink.

(LAUGHTER)

A TODD: Just wanted to tell you that. I don't know why.

BLAIR: The word authentic was used over and over again to describe Todd. Here's pastor Kris McDaniel.

MCDANIEL: The best way we honor the passing of a gentle giant, a big-hearted man, is to try to be as real as he is.

BLAIR: Doc "Mik" Todd is survived by his wife and two daughters, his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and a whole lot of friends.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.