Performed by The Oak Ridge Boys
Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen,
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
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
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
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
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
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)