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The good soldier who fought the war and the woman who loved him is a story as old as time," declares Oak Ridge Boy Joe Bonsall as he describes the remarkable love story of his parents, Joseph and Lillie.
"It's good to know that this kind of love, faith and dedication does exist ... and I believe it always will."
Joe's certainly doing his part to keep it alive. He's written a very personal song and book - both called "G.I. Joe & Lillie" - to share with the world the inspiring story of his parents' 55-year love affair.
It began when a boy from Philadelphia and a girl from North Carolina both left troubled homes in the 1940s to join the military - Joseph shipped out with the Army and Lillie enlisted in the Women's Army Corps. They were both 17. Before long, Joseph landed on Utah Beach as part of the D-Day Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor that day. He went on to receive other medals during World War II, including the Purple Heart for his injuries.
Lillie also was sent to Europe, where she was assigned to escort wounded soldiers back to the states. It was only through reading her handwritten accounts of those war-torn days many years later that Joe was able to see those troubled times through his mother's eyes. Indeed, his mother's words made him feel like he was there.
"Seeing her in an airplane at 17 or 18 years old," says Joe quietly, "crying about the broken bodies of the soldiers she saw ... That was one of the most gratifying things for me, meeting my folks at that age."
Joseph and Lillie eventually met each other in Long Island after the war and almost immediately fell in love. After five days of courtship, they were married and later had two children. But Joseph's nightmares and crippling injuries continued to plague him and left him with only one real friend - Lillie.
In his book and song, Joe shares the story of the amazing loyalty, sacrifice and character his mother gave to her husband through all of those years - even while they were residing together in a Veterans Center. That's where they were living in 1999 when Joe surprised them with their special song during an "Honor Our Veterans Week" concert.
He practiced the song backstage until, as Joe says, "I could sing it without crying." And, with his parents both watching from their wheelchairs, Joe did make it through the song - and the people stood and applauded for 10 minutes! The song later found its way onto the Oak Ridge Boys CD Colors, a collection of powerful patriotic and inspirational songs.
A publisher heard about the impact of the song and wanted to publish the lyrics in book form, which ultimately led to Joe's spending every spare moment writing the touching tribute to his parents, who are both now deceased.
"Not many people get to honor their parents this way," admits Joe. "It's a special blessing for me, and I hope it's a blessing for other people as well, something that might bring them closer to their own parents."
-- David Scarlett