Music Interviews
5:32 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

A Songwriter And An Army Dad Share One Touching Story

Originally published on Sun May 19, 2013 9:26 am

Two years ago on Memorial Day, Nashville songwriter Connie Harrington was driving in her car, listening to a story on the public radio program Here & Now. And she heard a father remembering his son — a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.

"He mentioned that he drove his son's truck," Harrington says. "And he went on to describe the truck."

Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti was 30 when he was killed in action in 2006. In the radio broadcast, his father, Paul, said his reasons for driving the truck Jared left behind were simple: "What can I tell you? It's him. It's got his DNA all over it. I 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."

Harrington was moved by what she heard and scribbled down everything she could remember, all while fighting tears. A few days later, Harrington started turning those thoughts into a song, with two co-writers. Singer Lee Brice recorded "I Drive Your Truck," and last month, it vaulted to No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart.

As that song grew in popularity, Paul Monti, the man whose words on the radio inspired it in the first place, got a message on Facebook. It was from a woman whose son was killed in the same battle as Jared.

"She sent me a message and told me that she had heard this song and that I had to listen to it. She knew that I drove Jared's truck, and she drove her son's truck," Monti says. "I remember not being able to listen to the entire song; I'd get into it a few bars or so, and just kind of welled up."

Here's the thing: Songwriter Harrington couldn't remember the name of the father whom she'd heard on the radio — but she wanted desperately to find him, to let him know he was the inspiration.

"You feel like this song was such a gift," Harrington says. "And it's facilitated healing, I think, in people. And we just wanted him to know that it was his words that touched us."

After lots of fruitless Internet searches, she finally found his name. And this week, Paul Monti flew to Nashville to meet the songwriters and go to a party to mark the song's success.

One of the most remarkable things about Jared isn't even in the song. The sergeant was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue a badly wounded comrade in Afghanistan in 2006. His patrol had come under a fierce attack, and Jared ran out three times into a wall of bullets and grenades. On his last attempt to save the private, he was killed.

"That's something I have to live with every day. ... [He] never gave up on anything, no matter what it was," Paul says of his son.

"Your child is your future, and when you've lost 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 'cuz they have to hold on. They just have to hold on."

The story continues on All Things Considered. Paul Monti and Connie Harrington met in a Nashville studio to speak with NPR's Melissa Block; click the audio link to hear their full conversation.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block with a story about how a father's words of loss, grief and remembrance heard on the radio turned into a number one country song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DRIVE YOUR TRUCK")

LEE BRICE: (Singing) I drive your truck, I roll every window down. And I burn up every back road in this town. I find a field...

BLOCK: Here's how that song, "I Drive Your Truck," came about. Two years ago on Memorial Day, Nashville songwriter Connie Harrington was driving in her car listening to a story on the Public Radio program "Here & Now," and she heard a father remembering his son, a soldier, who was killed in Afghanistan.

CONNIE HARRINGTON: He mentioned that he drove his son's truck and that - and he went on to describe the truck.

PAUL MONTI: What can I tell you? It's just - it's him. It's got his DNA all over it, you know? I just - I 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.

HARRINGTON: And I'm in the car, and I keep a little stack of Post-it notes, and I begin to write the details of the truck.

BLOCK: While you're driving?

HARRINGTON: While I was driving. Now, I'm crying and driving. I'm trying not to run off the road.

MONTI: Though it only gets pretty bad mileage...

(LAUGHTER)

MONTI: ...it's - I'm happy driving it. He's with me. But he's with me all the time anyway.

HARRINGTON: I scribbled down, you know, that he said it burns a lot of gas. But he didn't care. He drove it anyway. He said he hasn't cleaned the truck up.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRINGTON: And people get onto him for that. But it's - you kind of want to have their things the way they were.

BLOCK: Connie Harrington was so moved by what she heard that a few days later she started turning those thoughts into a song with two cowriters. Singer Lee Brice recorded "I Drive Your Truck," and last month, it vaulted to number one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DRIVE YOUR TRUCK")

BRICE: (Singing) Eighty-nine cents in the ashtray, half-empty bottle of Gatorade rolling in the floorboard. That dirty Braves cap on the dash, dog tags hanging 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 coping. 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's a cloud of dust. Yeah, sometimes I drive your truck.

BLOCK: Now, as that song climbed its way up the country charts, the man whose words on the radio inspired it in the first place, Paul Monti of Raynham, Massachusetts, got a message on Facebook. It was from a woman whose son was killed in the same battle as his son, Jared.

MONTI: And she sent me a message and told me that she had heard song and that I had to listen to it because she knew I drove Jared's truck and she drove her son's truck. So I remember not being able to listen to the entire song. I'd get into it a few bars or so and just kind of welled up.

BLOCK: And at this point, you didn't realize it was actually about you. It's spun off of your own words.

MONTI: I had no clue, whatsoever. I wondered, you know, who wrote this song.

BLOCK: And here's the thing: the songwriter, Connie Harrington, couldn't remember the name of the father whom she'd heard on the radio. But she wanted desperately to find him, to let him know he was the inspiration.

HARRINGTON: We feel like this song was such a gift. And it's facilitated healing, I think, in people. And we just wanted him to know that it was his words that touched us to write this song.

BLOCK: Well, after lots of fruitless internet searches, she finally found his name, Paul Monti. And she got a phone number and made the call.

MONTI: And I picked up phone, and it was Connie on the other end who got out about three words before she broke into tears.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTI: And I was just in complete shock.

BLOCK: Long story short, this week, Paul Monti flew to Nashville to meet the songwriters and go to a party to mark the song's success. Mr. Monti, you mentioned that at first you couldn't listen to the whole song. Is it still too painful to listen to the whole song?

MONTI: It is.

BLOCK: It is.

MONTI: It really is. I don't know if I've ever listened to it all the way through ever.

BLOCK: Really?

MONTI: I mean, I can get just so far, and I just have to shut it off.

BLOCK: Connie, you're sitting next to Mr. Monti there listening to him describe this process for him. And I wonder when he says that he can't bear to listen to the whole song, how that strikes you.

HARRINGTON: I totally understand. I mean, I - we wrote this song two years ago, and I still can't talk about it without crying.

MONTI: You got both of us in tears.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: One of the most remarkable things about Jared Monti isn't even in the song. Sergeant Monti was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest decoration for valor. In June of 2006, in remote northeast Afghanistan, his patrol came under fierce attack from some 50 enemy fighters.

Under withering fire, Jared Monti tried to rescue a badly wounded comrade, running out three times into a wall of bullets and grenades. On his last attempt, he was killed. Sergeant Monti was 30 years old.

MONTI: That's something I have to live with every day, losing my son, a boy - starting from a very young age - who never gave up on anything, no matter what it was, no matter how difficult it was so - trying to save Brian Bradbury. And going out to get him not once or twice but three times was just - well, that's Jared. He won't give up.

But underlying all of that was the one principle that he always, always, always lived by, and that was do the right thing. And the right thing was to try to save this young private who was alone, out in the open, injured, calling out for help. And the right thing was: I have to save my boy, no matter what the cost. And the cost was his life.

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 reasons so many Gold Star parents drive their children's trucks is because they have to hold on. They just have to hold on.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Monti and Ms. Harrington, thank you both so much for talking with us.

MONTI: And thank you for having us.

HARRINGTON: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's songwriter Connie Harrington and the man who inspired "I Drive Your Truck," Paul Monti.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DRIVE YOUR TRUCK")

BRICE: (Singing) I drive your truck. I hope you don't mind. I hope you don't mind I drive your truck.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: