A Day On The Eagles Wing
By Joseph S. Bonsall
The Oaks arrived in Salt Lake City early on the morning of July 28, 2003. We had played the Montana State Fair in Great Falls last night, and most everyone was still asleep in his bunk as we dropped anchor across from the Little America hotel. Tonight we would sing at a private party held by the Skaggs Drug Store family, before our Red, White and BluBlocker would head eastward.
I admit to being wide-awake when our driver, Billy Smith, shut the big engine down. In fact, I really didnt sleep very much at all throughout the night because I was so excited about the upcoming events. (I never sleep well when I have something big to do.)
You see, I had a bit of a separate agenda planned for today. After some breakfast and a quick clean up, I would be heading to Ogden, Utah. My first stop would entail spending about an hour meeting and greeting folks and signing their copies of G.I. Joe and Lillie at a MediaPlay store. But after that
.. a day on the Eagles wing!
Ogden, Utah is the home Hill Air Force Base, as well as the Ogden Air Logistics Center. Hill AFB is the home of the famed 388th Fighter Wing and the 75th Air Base Wing.
I have been honored with an invitation to speak here today to the young men and woman in uniform who serve at Hill. The gathering was called a Commanders Call and would take place inside Hanger 37. Several thousand were in attendance. Along with our young airmen and women, the entire base command was thereas well as many civilian support workers.
Also in attendance were about twenty old Veterans, many with their wives. Veterans from all the services: Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force. Veterans of many battles from Bataan to The Bulge, from Korea to Viet Nam. Mr. George Whalen was in attendance. He is the only living Medal of Honor winner in the State of Utah. He was a hero at Iwo Jima.
This entire group was gathered together at this moment for just one reason and that was to listen to me talk. It was an honor that is way beyond words and so hard for me to describe. It was not only very humbling to me, but in all honesty, it was on of the greatest moments of my entire life. There was a part of me that was just scared to death, but I was prepared and ready to say thank you to our nations best for their service. I was ready to talk about America!
I stood before a huge flag behind a podium. I felt like General Patton. (You may read the entire speech transcript below.) After the speech I presented each Veteran, as well as the Air Command, with copies of G.I. Joe and Lillie and the Oaks new Colors CD.
On behalf of New Leaf Press, I presented each of them with a signed and numbered G.I. Joe and Lillie collectible, suited for framing and containing a beautiful quote from the book. The one about there being, No greater love than that of a soldier, one for the other.
While taking a picture with the old Veterans, we all broke into a chorus of
Elvira as the young ones cheered. I spent a lot of time talking with these kids and taking pictures with them. They are the best of America, and I will never forget them for they way they treated me.
. bonus time
. a reward. Colonel Charlie Lyon, the commander of the 388th FW, escorted me on a VIP tour of the base which included not only seeing an F-16 up close and learning all about it, but actually sitting in the cockpit. (If General Yeager could see me now!!)
Then I was privileged to sit in on an informative briefing, which concerned the base, its history, its logistical info, its planes, its air support team, and its capabilities. If those who would harm us ever took a look at this film they would be waving white flags and taking apart their weapons.
. big mistake
. lets make peace
. please dont come here. How about those Yankees and Braves
Unfortunately, evil empires, dictators and regimes of terror must be first shownup close and personalthat messing with the United States is not a good move.
Well, bring em on!
Then I spent time in a classroom learning about an F-16 flight simulator. Why?? Glad you asked. Old Tenor Boy flew an F-16. Thankfully, it was indeed simulated.
I did well for a while. I took off out of Hill with no problem. I even did a roll or two and survived. Then...... the commander pulled up an enemy battleship that began firing at me. Hey man, Nintendo was never like this! I was told to nose up and then do a power dive at the ship, which was firing ordinance at me from the middle of the Great Salt Lake (which is impossible
.. I had the enemy in my sights and opened fire. BLAM. BLAM.
I blew that ship to pieces. I was feeling good. Those around me cheered.
Pull up. Pull up, yelled my instructor.
Ah, oh.... I couldnt do it
.. can you say hand basket?
EH EH EH EH EH!!!
Yes, I crashed a 27 million dollar F-16 directly into the Great Salt Lake.
(This time I am glad that General Yeager WASNT there.)
After handshakes, hugs and goodbyes, your humble, banjo-playing, tenor-singing author headed back to the bus and the Boys in Salt Lake City.
Because of G.I. Joe and Lillie, I think I may speak like this to other bases around the country and if that opportunity continues to present itself, I will certainly take it. A tank simulator? Hmmmmmm.
Nevertheless, I am quite sure that my mom and dad were proud of me today. I shared a little piece of them with America, and it was such an honor to have been able to do so.
Until the day my precious Savior takes me Home to meet with them once again, I will never forget this day
.. a day when yet another street kid from
Philly got to spend a little bit of time
..On The Eagles Wing.
||A great little piece has been submitted by Holly Richardson, who witnessed firsthand this memorable day in the life of Joseph S. Bonsall Another Perspective...GI Joey
Ogden, Utah, July 28, 2003
Command speech, Hanger 37, Hill Air Force Base
Thank you Major General Sullivan and commanders of Hill Air Force Base and Ogden Air Logistics.
I am honored to be here today. Yes, I am one of The Oak Ridge Boys, and I appreciate your kind words about our group, Sir. I feel fortunate to have been able to spend thirty years singing with a group that cares about America and cares deeply about the young men and woman in uniform who serve today.
I bring regards to you from my singing partners. The other three guys in that big picture on the screen........ Duane Allen, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden. They have also been an Oak for a long time and their middle name is also Of The.
You know, as in There goes one of the
Aren't you one of the
Is that guy.......one OF THE?
Many of you young people may not remember all of our hits but surely, even inside the womb, you must have heard ELVIRA.
I am not sure about that performance part that was mentioned. I am kind of flying solo up here today
(Sing G.I. and Joe Lillie a cappella.)
Thank you, Ladies and Gentleman. G.I. Joe and Lillie do indeed rest today in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery and for me to be able to sing that song in front of you, our present day warriors as well as these wonderful veterans who are here today, is an honor that is beyond words. I am especially honored today to be in the presence of Utahs only living Medal of Honor winner, Mr. George Whalen. God bless you, Sir, and thank you.
The main reason that I have been invited here today is because, as a fledgling author, I have written a book, G.I. Joe and Lillie. This little book, like the song, is based on the lives of my own parents. It is a book about war, romance, sacrifice, love, loyalty, and faith in God. I figured that veterans and older people who lived through WWII might embrace this story, however, it has been amazing how much response it is generating from our young men and woman who serve today.
I have heard from so many of you, from all around the world, including
Iraq, and I have been moved and so very blessed by these letters. To think that the lives of G.I. Joe and Lillie have given real meaning and inspiration during these times boggles my mind.
I wish that my parents were here to see this. G.I. Joe would never tell you that he was a hero
.. but he was. His Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters were always proof enough for me. Like you, he rose way up above himself and did some extraordinary things for the cause of his mission and our freedom.
And Lillie, a Womens Army Corp Corporal, stayed by his side through thick and thin. As if his battle wounds werent bad enough, he suffered a debilitating stroke caused be a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain that incapacitated him at age 39.
Lillie always said, He was a hero, I wont throw him away like an old shoe.
And she never did.
G.I. Joe and Lillie would be proud of you today. Both always cried when a flag passed by. Like these wonderful veterans who are here, they paid a big price for freedom. And they deeply loved this country.
back in those days, the Army and Air Force were the same branch. When Lillie finished basic at the WAC training center in Savannah, Georgia, she was shipped to Eglin Air Force Base. She wrote home and said, Well, Ill be doggoned, they have gone and put me in the Air Force!
Yeah man, she called yall
..FLYBOYS! Lillie loved Flyboys
The Oak Ridge Boys are on a huge 173-day tour in 2003, and we get to look Middle America right in the eye every night. We have been singing songs on this tour from a new CD called Colors. Songs that reflect Middle America at its very best, with subject matters of faith, family, friendship, children, hometown, the flagand those who defend it. The song G.I. Joe and Lillie is on this new CD. (That was a plug!)
Whether we play a theater, a festival, or a county fair in any town from Maine to California, the response to these songs has been overwhelming. I am here to tell you that the vast majority of Americans love their country, and the vast majority of Americans love you, as well! Most people are much more optimistic and prayerful about the future of this great land than what we see reflected on some of the evening news.
Make no mistake; there is an element of people in this country who feel that we would be much better off without you. Much better off without God in our lives. Much better off with less patriotism. And I guess, much better off with socialism or dictatorship.
They piss and moan and wring their hands, but they have no answers. They would rather dis our president than put down Saddam Hussein. They believe that Castro is a great guy, and Lenin and Stalin really had some great ideas. They stand up against cruelty and injustice and civil liberties while ignoring the
.. are you ready?
.. millions who have been executed by the aforementioned evildoers.
If these people ever did gain control, our enemies would be laughing as our cities and what was left of our way of life crumbled down on top of us. Thankfully, these people are in a minority, but they have loud voices that resonate from Hollywoodto parts of our very own Congress.
Why dont they realize that their loud voices would never be heard without the freedom to voice their opinion? The freedom that YOU are fighting for.
.. I am not running for office. I am a just singer, a fledgling author, and an every day American citizen. Just as you are. So I can say with impunity......... that these people are dangerous, and they are dead wrong.
Dont let them get you down.
No one in his of her right mind really wants our nation and our young people in a war of any kind. War is hell! It is the absolute worse thing that can happen to humanity. It is a brutal infliction of pain and heartache and sacrifice on so many levels.
I know your commander in chief, and I know his parents. Barbara Bush wrote the foreword to G.I. Joe and Lillie. These are wonderful people. They are patriots.
I can feel and sense the anguish that President George W. Bush feels in sending you into harms way. I pray for him daily. He is a good man who cares about not only preserving our freedom but the other part of the mission that some may not quite understandyou are also fighting for the protection of this great land.
There is no doubt that this president will do what must be done to protect us from the evildoers who would destroy us. He didnt ask for that job; it just sort of popped up and came with the territory. With your help, I believe he is proving that he is up for the task. To quote political analyst Dick Morris, after 9/11, this President didnt come up with just an answer or a little idea........ but an entire DOCTRINE!!!!
You are the ones who are enforcing this doctrine, and in so doing, you are the ones who are protecting the very future of this nationand her peoplefrom those who would harm us. You are doing a great job, too!
There is still a huge hole in the ground in our greatest city that acts as a burial ground for thousands of Americans who were just going to work on that day. Just living in their personal little bubbles
.. when BOOM, they were overtaken by suffering, carnage, and death.
The same at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania. If not for the heroes on that plane we might also have a hole in Washington where the Capitol or the White House still stands.
We can NEVER forget this my friends. Never!
We need to keep on kicking their ass and making them pay. (Was that okay to say, Sir?)
We must continue to make this world realize that we arent going to put up with terrorism, not for one second of one minute of one day. (It just hit me that those Hussein Brothers are probably lounging in HELL right about now!)
Our present day enemies are full of unmitigated evil. Groups of fanatics who have hijacked an entire religion and twisted it to meet their own miserable purpose, which is to destroy and dominate. They hate our American way of life. Period! Its that simple
Yes, war is awful, and I hate to see it. I also understand that as an American, a father and, yes, a grandfather. (Thank you for that applause, a four-year-old grandson named Luke and a beautiful granddaughter named Breanne who is eight
going on 17!)
I believe that this evil must be fought if freedom is to prevail. Tyrants must be toppled if liberty is to prevail, and God is to be honored if America is to prevail.
Growing up in a tough part of Philadelphia I walked about 16 blocks to junior high school. There was a big muscular kid who waited around to beat the daylights out of me every single day.
I was an easy target. A skinny little buck toothed kid with a big Elvis Pomp. He scared me to death, and I went hungry every day because of him. No matter which way I went to school, and I had many options, there he was, ready to beat me up if I didnt fork over my tuna fish sandwich and apple, plus any change that I carried in my pocket.
Well, one day a light came on. I got mad. I picked up a bottle and bashed his head in with it. It felt good so I hit him again. When he fell down, I proceeded to kick the living daylights out of him, and needless to say, he never bothered me again.
.. walking to school each day, thinking pleasant thoughts, and helping little old ladies home with their groceries doesnt protect you from the fact that there are bad people in the world who are just itching to harm you and disrupt your way of life.
Why cant we all just get along and sing Kum Ba Ya? just doesnt cut it in this day in age. Sorry, Hollywood. I really wish it did. Sometimes you just have to break that bottle over the bullys heador in your case
.. lay a MOAB right up his keister. (I couldnt wait to say that!)
I really wish there was a better way
.. but there is NOT!
I would like to read a part of a published commentary that I wrote several weeks ago. It is called The Relevance of G.I. Joe and Lillie in 2003.......by Joseph S. Bonsall.
My son is in Iraq
.. I have a neighbor in the Air Force who is right now flying over
.. My cousin has been in Afghanistan for
..Billy could be shipped overseas any day now
.. She is a Marine stationed in
The 101st just shipped out of Ft Campbell, Kentucky this morning
My brothers unit just got called
..My husband was killed when a
On and on and on! Sound familiar?
As I re-read G.I. Joe and Lillie last night and once again studied the time period of World War II and, yes, once again pondered the sacrifice of our nations best, it hit me that today isnt much different. Our young people are still giving all for the cause of this nations freedom and protection.
Just like G.I. Joes Tough Ombres of the Fighting 90th, our men and woman are at war today and, again, the sacrifice that is being made is enormous.
Faith, loyalty, patriotism, being willing, sticking it out, putting your life on the line and your heart on the table, SACRIFICE on so many levels. In this uncertain world, so many are paying the ultimate price once again.
Freedom is not free. It never was
.. it never will be. Take a stroll through Arlington National Cemetery.
In G.I. Joe and Lillie's time our nation was united, much as we were after the horrors of September 11, 2001. Flags were flying. God was being summoned.
This is a very emotionally charged day and age to be certain, and I believe that, understandably, many of us are a bit confused and even afraid. So much is happening so fast in the world.
I ask you to please keep this in mind. If you do not believe in Americas policies, or even Americas leaders. Whether you reside on one side of a political ideology or the other. Whether Liberal or Conservative. Whether red or yellow, black, brown or white, rich or poor. Just remember. Our freedom to think and to express our views has been paid for in bloodand will be again.
Let us also remember that deep in our hearts we are all Americans, and I believe that we are blessed by God and fortunate to be living in the Land of
Unite on this. Please support our brave troops. Our soldiers, sailors, pilots, and specialists. Our young men and woman. Pray for them. Love them!
My good friend Steve Robinson is here with me today. Steve wrote a tribute to Arlington National Cemetery called Friend, Good Night, which appears at the end of G.I. Joe and Lillie, as well as on the Arlington website.
He reminded me that when President George W. Bush spoke last year regarding the troops that stormed Normandy's beaches, he said we were about to reach a time when there will be no one left on earth who actually looked into the eyes of those who died on that distant shore.
I think we all understand what the commander in chief was sayingand it is certainly a sobering thought. It speaks to the importance of remembering and honoring those who came before us and made our freedom possible.
But on this specific point, I find myself in the extremely rare position of disagreeing with the president's premise. Because as I stand here today and look into your eyesthe eyes of some of America's finest and proudest defenders of freedom, I see the same fervor, the same patriotism, the same love of country that burned in the eyes of Alan Critchlow and Keith Davis and Private Joseph S. Bonsall, who were all there on the beach code named UTAH
.. on that DAY OF ALL DAYS.
The same fire that burned within George Whalen at Iwo Jima. The fire of sacrifice for America that still burns inside of the hearts of all of these distinguished veterans.
In closing I just want to say
.. are The United States Air Force. With your superior technology and sheer power, coupled with your brilliant young minds and brave, willing hearts, you ARE the first line of defense for America as well as being the Point Of The Spear in winning the WAR ON TERROR.
Thank you for all that you are doing for all of us. May God bless each and every one of you. May He go with you and protect you. May He hold you in His arms and always bring you safely back home to those who love you.
May He, in His infinite wisdom and grace continue to bless our United States of America. Thank you!!