Meanwhile, Connie Harrington was doing everything she could to track down Paul Monti and let him know that he was the song’s inspiration. But she was having a hard time finding him. After many hours searching on the web, she finally found his name, and got his phone number. And earlier this month, Paul Monti flew to Nashville to meet the people who wrote that song, and to celebrate the song’s meteoric success.
“I Drive Your Truck” captures in painstaking detail the grief of Paul Monti, with the kind of emotional honesty that has made country music America’s music. If you don’t know them, here are the opening lyrics to the song about a truck that’s moved a nation:
Eighty-nine cents in the ashtray
Half-empty bottle of Gatorade
Rollin’ on the floorboard
That dirty Braves cap on the dash
Dogtags hangin’ from the rearview
Old Skoal can and cowboy boots
And a “Go Army” shirt folded in the back
This thing burns gas like crazy
But that’s all right
People got their ways of copin’
Oh, and I’ve got mine
I drive your truck
I roll every window down
And I burn up
Every back road in this town
I find a field, I tear it up
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust
Yes, sometimes, I drive your truck
If ever there were words written that captured the universal grief of a parent coping with the loss of a fallen son or daughter, that opening verse and the chorus contain them.
What the song does not do is describe how Paul’s son Jared lost his life in Afghanistan. In June 2006, Jared’s patrol came under fire from 50 enemy fighters. One of the soldiers who served under him was wounded and needed help. Despite the blistering firefight, Jared responded to the call not once or twice but three times. It was that last try that got him killed.
That was the way Jared was hardwired. His father explained that his son was the kind of man who never gave up on people and always tried to do the right thing. “The right thing was trying to save this young private who was alone, out in the open, injured and calling out for help,” Paul told NPR last week.
The subject then turned back to the loss of his son, and the truck he had talked about almost two years ago in that first NPR interview. He said this: “You know, I think it’s important for people to understand — or at least try to understand — what Gold Star parents go through. Your child is your future and when you lose your child you’ve lost your future, and I think one of the reasons so many Gold Star parents drive their children’s trucks is because they have to hold on. They just have to hold on.”
The grief Jared’s father feels will never go away. And he’ll probably drive that truck of his son’s for as long as it will run. And longer.
The last verse of the song says it all:
I’ve cussed, I’ve prayed, I’ve said goodbye
I’ve shook my fist and asked God why
These days, when I’m missin’ you this much
I drive your truck
On Memorial Day, this most sacred of all secular American holidays, gather your family around the computer screen and watch that video of “I Drive Your Truck.” Cry a little bit. Cry a lot. Cry together. And then reach out to a soldier. Reach out to the parent of a soldier. And thank them for everything they’ve done. And are about to do.
— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives inOxford,Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.