The Country Music Association Awards’ Song of the Year has a simple name - ”I Drive Your Truck.” But it’s the deep emotion, the inconceivable feeling of loss behind the song that helped earn it the honor.
“Thank you so much Jared, for what you did for this country,” songwriter Jimmy Yeary said in his CMA acceptance speech.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti was killed in Afghanistan while trying to save a fellow soldier. The song is about the absence of Jared, the deep longing for him felt by his father, Paul.
“Very humble kid, very hard working kid, extremely adventurous kid. There was no hill too high, no tree too tall for Jared,” Monti told CNN.
In 2011, Paul Monti told a reporter with Boston Public Radio about his operation Flags for Vets, his mission to place American flags on the graves of service members on Memorial Day.
“Do you still drive Jared’s truck?” a Boston radio reporter asked.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “I just love driving it because it reminds me of him. Though I don’t need the truck to remind me of him, I think about him every hour of every day.”
A songwriter from Nashville, Connie Harrington, was on her way home from work the day of the broadcast. She wasn’t in the mood for music, which she’d been listening to all day, so she tuned into NPR, and caught Monti’s interview.
She “heard the interviewer ask how I keep Jared close, and I said well, ‘I drive his truck.’ It struck her immediately, and she wrote it down on a notepad she had in the car,” Monti said.
CNN caught up with him in Brockton, Massachusetts, where he is still living out his son’s message of strength and duty, and, yes, still driving Jared’s black Dodge Ram pickup. He was pleased to hear about the award.
“It was very uplifting. It was a song that’s touched the hearts of Gold Star Families (immediate families of fallen service members) throughout the country, as well as other families that have lost their child. It’s fitting that we have something out there that honors them that they can hold on to,” said Paul.
Jared Monti was killed during an intense firefight with as many as 50 insurgents on Hill 2610, in a remote area of Afghanistan in 2006. When one of the soldiers was severely wounded and pinned down under a barrage of gunfire, Monti tried to reach him three times.
On his last attempt, he was hit by an RPG. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
“Said his patrol leader, ‘It was the bravest thing I had ever seen a soldier do,’” President Barack Obama said during the award ceremony.
Working with two other songwriters, Harrington found inspiration in Paul’s words. After Brice recorded it, the song soon hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
Though Monti had no idea.
Cheryl Lee Patrick, the mother of one of the four soldiers killed that day on Hill 2610, sent the song to him. She, too, drives her late son Patrick Lybert’s truck. Neither had any idea that Monti was the song’s inspiration.
“It was only after the song reached number one, two years later, really that I contacted with Connie Harrington and the songwriters,” said Paul.
The truck gets bad mileage. It doesn’t matter to Paul.
“I’m alone, in the truck with him, it’s just, it’s a very special, peaceful feeling,” Paul said.
Peace is hard to come by.
“I’m day-to-day … as are all the Gold Star parents, Gold Star families,” said Paul. “It’s a pain that never goes away, it’s always there. People say time heals all, but in this case it doesn’t.”
“Losing a parent, that’s one thing, that’s your past, but losing a child, you’ve lost your future,” said Paul. “You don’t have those grandkids to look forward to, and those special days of going to the ballpark together, or going fishing. All of that that you envisioned is gone.”
Monti says his hope is that those who enjoy the song learn about Gold Star Families, and what they go through. Listeners have to learn, he says, that freedom isn’t free. It’s all paid for by the blood of our young men and women.