Performed by The Oak Ridge Boys Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban
Copyright 2003 Spring Hill
"My wife and I were touched by The Oak Ridge Boys' live performance of this heartfelt, personal song written by Joe Bonsall, who sings the lead with love and pride. And the video is a similar live performance." David Bancroft, USA Patriotism! founder
Some Thoughts on G. I. Joe and Lillie in 2009 By Joseph S. Bonsall
In 2003, The Oak Ridge Boys recorded a very special album project for the Spring Hill Music Group. Colors has become one of our most popular projects in the last decade. We recorded the CD to honor America and to pay tribute to those who have defended (and now defend) the freedoms of our great country. I believe we accomplished that goal with songs like An American Family, Colors, American Beauty, The Home Stretch, and This Is America.
However, I have been asked to write a few words concerning another song on the CD. G.I. Joe and Lillie has become a recent YouTube phenomenon. I am so deeply moved and humbled by it, it is hard to find the words. I'll start with the history of this song, which is chronicled in the Foreword to my book of the same name, G.I. Joe & Lillie: Remembering a Life of Love and Loyalty, published by New Leaf Press in 2003.
Although I wrote the book after my parents passed away, I wrote the song while they were still alive. The Oak Ridge Boys were performing in Lancaster, PA, at the American Music Theater, and we had invited forty veterans from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Home to join us that evening.
My parents, Joseph S. Bonsall, Sr. and Lillie M. Bonsall, were in attendance that night. They also resided in what my mom called, ‘The Soldiers Home.' I wrote the song to honor them and after we performed it that night there was not a dry eye in the place.
G. I. Joe and Lillie left us in 2001. My dad passed away in January, and my mom in October. Over the next few years some amazing things happened. I wrote the book, based on Lillie's memoirs.
It tells the story of a young couple who met after joining the army in the 40's. Each had grown up in abusive homes. They were a war hero and a WAC, who would marry and live with the demons of war for the rest of their lives.
Yet... they would survive and raise a family. Like the song says, it is a story of faith and patriotism and plain old American grit—desire and hard work. It is my parents' story. But it is similar to so many others'.
The book has been a huge success on every level, as has the song. As a son, I am blessed that I have been able to honor my parents in word and song. I thank God for this every single day. The response has been overwhelming from the beginning, especially from veterans of World War Two, who have identified so much with the story. Like the line in the song says, “an American love story not unlike a lot of others,” I believe a big reason for the success of the book and song is the fact that so many veterans lived their lives—during that time period and in the years after the war—exactly as Joe and Lillie did.
A few years ago, The Oak Ridge Boys taped a patriotic-themed television special for our friends at Feed The Children. We performed G. I. Joe and Lillie live for the first time since that night in Lancaster when I debuted it for my parents. It was a special evening for me, performing with The Oak Ridge Boys on a big stage, with the band, and all the production. As the cameras rolled, I became incredibly emotional as I sang about my daddy and mommy. I found myself wishing they could be there, and when I got to the last line, ‘G. I. Joe and Lillie was MY father and my mother,' well... I just lost it.
That television show has played hundreds of times on a number of major networks and helped raise a ton of money so Reverend Larry Jones could feed hungry kids around the world. About a year ago, someone put the video of that performance on YouTube. When I first saw it there, I thought it was pretty cool, because over the last year quite a few people had viewed it.
But that was just the beginning.
Something incredible happened about a month ago when many military web sites discovered the video and began to embed G. I. Joe and Lillie into their homepages, citing it as an example of patriotism and inspiration. The floodgates opened. With well over on million views right now, it appears that people all over the place are e-mailing the link to friends and co-workers. Many who might have never seen it before are watching the Oaks sing the song. I am not sure how far this is going to go, but I will tell you what the bottom line is for me....
Our young warriors are hearing the song and reading the book because of this YouTube happening, and I am hearing from many of them. From Iraq and Afghanistan to military bases worldwide. If my mom only knew that young soldiers of today are reading her story or hearing her song, it would make her very, very happy. She loved every one of them with all of her heart. I pray that somehow our Lord will let her know about how she and daddy are STILL touching so many lives.
G. I. Joe and Lillie... MY Mommy and Daddy. I love them so much, and I miss them every day. On YouTube? I could have NEVER anticipated that.
God bless our veterans and the young men and women of our armed forces. Keep them safe... bring them home to those who love them when the mission is complete! (JSB)