A few years ago, I wrote a song about a young couple that served in the army during World War II. When G.I. Joe and Lillie met, he was a war hero recovering from severe wounds and she was a WAC assigned to help transport him. Both had grown up in abusive homes. They would marry and live with the demons of war for the rest of their lives. Yet just like so many others of their generation, they would survive and raise a family. The song is about faith, patriotism and plain old American grit -- desire and hard work. It's an American love story not unlike a lot of others. It is the story of my parents.
The song was included in an album The Oak Ridge Boys recorded in 2003 called Colors, one of our most popular projects over the past decade. We did the CD to honor and pay tribute to those who have defended (and now defend) our country. One of the cuts was "G.I. Joe and Lillie." My parents got to hear the song in concert before they both passed away in 2001. We were performing in Lancaster, PA at the American Music Theater. We had invited forty veterans from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Home to join us that evening, including my parents who also resided in what my mother called "The Soldiers' Home." There was not a dry eye in the house.
Over the years that followed, some amazing things happened. I wrote a book based on Lillie's memoirs that was a huge success on every level. A few years ago, The Oak Ridge Boys taped a television special for Feed the Children. It was the first time that we had performed "G.I. Joe and Lillie" since that night in Lancaster. As the cameras rolled, I got very emotional as I sang about my Daddy and Mommy. I found myself wishing that they could have been there, and when I got to the song's last line, I just lost it.
The television show has played hundreds of times on television and helped raise a ton of money so Reverend Larry Jones could feed hungry kids around the world. But that was just the beginning of the story. Around a year ago, someone posted our performance of "G.I. Joe and Lillie" on YouTube. And now, the floodgates have opened.
The YouTube video is up to over a million and a half views and counting, numbers you'd only expect from major hit music videos. Military websites also discovered it and began to embed the song onto their home pages. I am hearing from service men and women from Iraq and Afghanistan and military bases worldwide. If my father and mother only knew that so many young soldiers of today and their families are hearing their story and being inspired by it, it would make them very, very happy.
God bless our veterans and the young men and women of our armed forces. Keep them safe and bring them home to those who love them when their missions are complete.