Joseph S. Bonsall, Sr.
Private First Class, United States Army
of his loving Son, Joseph S. Bonsall, Jr.
Joseph S. Bonsall, Sr. was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1926. He passed away on January 27th 2001 and was buried with full Military Honors at Arlington National Cemetery on January 31st 2001 at Three PM on The corner Of Eisenhower and York.
Private First Class Joseph S. Bonsall, Sr. hit the beach at Omaha on D-Day at nineteen years of age. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor on that beach that terrible day. After forty days of vicious hedgerow fighting his platoon was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. On his own initiative and without fear, Private First Class Bonsall took out both machine gun nests on his own and was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his efforts. He was severely wounded in the attack and was therefore awarded the Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters. He received several other Medals of Merit.
He married Lillie Collins, a Womens Army Corps Nurse who he had known for just three days. At age 35 he had a debilitating Stroke and has been disabled for forty Years. Joseph and Lillie have lived in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Center for 2 1/2 years. Lillie Bonsall still dwells there. She has looked after him ALL of these years and will someday rest in Arlington with him. Joseph S Bonsall, Sr. is survived by his wife Lillie, son Joseph Jr. and daughter Nancy and granddaughters Jennifer and Sabrina as well as Great Grandchildren Breanne and Luke. He was a True American hero who paid for his valor his throughout entire Life.
(I am also sending to you a story that I wrote that will appear in a future book called From the Heart of the American Veteran by Ron Camacho).
Again, Michael, Thanks for you time and consideration,
and I thank you for a wonderful job on the Arlington site! God Bless
You, Joseph S. Bonsall, Jr.
Oak Ridge Boy tells rest of war story
A son’s love and devotion surround the story of “G.I. Joe & Lillie.”
That’s the title of a song the son wrote. It’s also the title of a book he wrote.
G.I. Joe is the son’s name for his father, who was terribly wounded in World War II.
Lillie — his mother, a veteran of the Women’s Army Corps — married G.I. Joe six days after they met.
G.I. Joe had war nightmares throughout his life. In midlife, a stroke left him disabled. Speech vanished except for a few slurred words, with “war” becoming “whoa.”
Often taking two jobs to get the family through, Lillie cared for her husband to the end. They were married for 55 years.
Many people know the son, Joe Bonsall. He sings with country music’s Oak Ridge Boys, who have entertained fans for three decades — and on many visits to Green Bay.
On Monday, the Oaks return for two performances at the Weidner Center. The song “G.I. Joe & Lillie” isn’t on the program because the Oaks will be focusing on Christmas songs.
Perhaps that’s just as well. It could get folks weeping.
The song describes the lives of G.I. Joe and Lillie, and grabs you with a beautiful hymn-like chorus that starts out:
“Let me hold you in my arms, handsome soldier
Take my hand for we are going home today …”
The song is on the CD “Colors,” which is nominated for a Grammy Award.
The book is about “regular” people who served in war, but not just about the war years.
“I cover Joe and Lillie’s life from the time they both run away from an abusive home — one in Philly, one in North Carolina — and join the Army,” Bonsall says by phone. “I cover their lives until they’re buried at Arlington National Cemetery.”
G.I. Joe landed in Normandy on D-Day. More bloody combat followed, until he was wounded on a hill near St. Lo, France. He earned a Silver Star and Bronze Star, among other decorations.
Lillie was helping process wounded men when she met G.I. Joe in 1945. Theirs was a love-at-first-sight romance — one that endured much hardship.
“The love my mother showed all of her life — she was an incredible woman,” Bonsall says. “Very strong woman. A woman of faith and character. And loved this country, loved the flag, loved her children. And loved him. It was unbelievable, man.
“She stuck with him through thick and thin all the way through their whole lives. He was disabled from age 39. When they were both living in the soldier’s home at the end, there she was, not being able to see anymore, and she still looked after him. It was amazing.”
The book has caught attention. It’s in its second printing.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for me to honor an incredible couple of lives,” Bonsall says. “It’s been a blessing.”
The forward is by former first lady Barbara Bush.
“She gave me an ‘A,’ which was really cool,” Bonsall says.
The impact of “G.I. Joe & Lillie” is rippling.
“What has happened as the result of this book is several men in the 90th Division Association have retraced my father’s footsteps from Normandy to the hill in St. Lo,” Bonsall says.
There’s word of a monument being put up in G.I. Joe’s honor. If so, it would bring his son to Normandy and St. Lo.
“If they do this monument on this hill (Bonsall’s voice breaks) — I’m sorry — I definitely wouldn’t miss that.”
Bonsall is an admirer of Wisconsin-bred author Stephen Ambrose and the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Both brought what his father went through closer to him.
“As I alluded to in the book, my father never talked about the war very much to me at all,” Bonsall says. “As an older man — disabled and very old — he would talk to me about the war thing. He could only say six or seven words.
“What he would do is make a machine gun sound. He’d go, ‘Eh eh eh eh. Whoa. Goddamn whoa.’ And then he’d cry. That was my father telling me about the war. That’s the best way he could do it.”
Bonsall visits his parents’ graves.
“I would love for my mother to know what an impact her book has had on young soldiers today,” he says. “I get e-mails from Afghanistan, Iraq. I get e-mails from families of soldiers who are serving today.
“I’ve got a letter from a lady that says, ‘I want to be a wife to my husband like Lillie was to G.I. Joe. He’s in Iraq.’
“Good Lord, knowing my mother like I knew my mother, if she knew that her life and her story were meaningful to soldiers, that probably would mean more to her than anything.”
In a subtle way, the book explains a lot about the Oak Ridge Boys — why the group sings the songs it does, especially the patriotic and religious ones, and its diligence over 30-plus years.
“I know that I am what I am today because of her,” he says.
“My mother would say, ‘You want to go sing, go sing — and do it well. If you want to succeed in this country, here’s what you have to do. You have to work hard. You have to give it everything you have. You have to sacrifice. You have to treat people right and tell the truth. And honor God in all that you do. Then you can succeed in this country.’
always point over to my father in his wheelchair and say, ‘That’s why guys
like him did what they did. So don’t blow it.’
Fathers Day 2004 falls on Sunday, June 20th, six days after Flag Day, and exactly fourteen days after June 6th. Therefore it was sixty years ago, on June 6, 1944, that my own father as a young man of eighteen years old hit the Normandy Beach, code named UTAH - on D-Day
I am so very honored to have been given the opportunity, as his son, to chronicle his life and that of my precious mother in the book G.I. Joe and Lillie —as well as the song by the same name, which appears on our new Colors album.
Not long ago, while doing a book tour interview on a PBS radio show, a very interesting question was posed to your author.
In researching your father’s war years did you learn anything new about him?
I had to think long and hard about that one. I certainly learned more about the Tough Ombres of the Fighting 90th Infantry Division and how they got from Point A to B before and after the invasion……. but did I learn something new about my dad?
I knew he came from an abusive, alcoholic, and dysfunctional family. I knew he had run away and joined the Army. I knew about D-Day, St Lo, his Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters. I knew about his nightmares and his drinking problems.
I also knew he was a hard worker. He loved my sister and me, and especially his Lillie with all of his heart. I knew he was only 39 years of age when he had his debilitating stroke. And, I knew he spent his entire disabled life feeling badly about what he perceived to be his shortcomings.
I knew he loved WWF wrestling and fried chicken. I knew he liked to boo the Phillies and that he cried on Christmas mornings. I knew that he came to love God, and he certainly loved The Oak Ridge Boys.
He was very proud that his son made something of himself—despite his fear that little Joey might turn out to be useless because he was not mechanically inclined and couldn’t hammer a nail straight into a piece of wood, even if his life depended on it. (I still can’t do that very well.)
I have made it my life's work to remember stuff, and there wasn’t a new thing that I thought I could learn. But.........
Have you seen the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams?
It is one of the few “guy cry” movies, along with maybe The Dirty Dozen and True Grit (kidding). Anyhow, what brought the male of our species down to his knees was when the grownup Costner figure beheld his father at about 18-years-old and realized that this sturdy, strong, and good looking young man was his father......... “before the years got to him!”
Writing G.I. Joe and Lillie brought me face
to face for a little while with the young versions of my father and my
mother. I wrote the book in a third person style that allowed me to remove
myself from the picture, and in so doing, I met a troubled young man who
couldn’t understand his own father and ran off to “hell.” A fun loving
and gritty, skinny yet sinewy, street kid who, with a rifle in his hand
and an angel on his shoulder, helped to change the very face
Yes, I remember stuff.
I remember as a small boy watching my dad do a half gainer into a somersault off a high diving board at Cedar Lake Park, when I couldn’t have even imagined climbing the ladder. I remember going to the plant with him at midnight when he was called in to fix some huge piece of machinery that only he could fix.
“Come with me boy, you might learn something.”
I remember watching him swim like Johnny Weismuller and climb a ladder quicker than a cat. He could drive a car and draw Bugs Bunny and talk like Donald Duck. I remember him making pancakes (about twice a year). I see him sitting next to me at the old Connie Mack Stadium at 51st and Lehigh, eating a hot dog and slugging down a few Ballantines, while hideously booing Johnny Callison (“can’t hit”) and Richie Ashburn (“a twerp”). He loved Robin Roberts though. The Phillies never won much anyway, and they sure didn’t have much of a chance when he was in the stands.
Years later, I see him in a wheelchair sitting in the handicapped section of Veterans Stadium, booing Mike Schmidt in 1980 and Mitch Williams in 1993. I see him not able to speak. I see him weak and frail. I see him in the “Soldiers Home,” and I see him lying in a casket......... small and thin......... with a flower arrangement from the President of the United States towering over his casket.
I will admit to having an up-and-down relationship with my father. I always felt that Mom understood me, and that he did not. In reality, his constant chiding worked in a positive way for me.
“I’ll show him,” I would think. “I will leave these streets behind someday and be Elvis.........”
Well I didn’t do that......... but when that man would watch me sing on a big stage with The Oak Ridge Boys, he would smile the whole time while fighting back tears of joy. My daddy was proud of me. What more could a son ask?
I always wanted to be better at being a “daddy” than he did. God in Heaven knows that I love my two daughters with all of my heart. They have both grown into wonderful and beautiful women, and I would hope that my love and support have had a little to do with it.
But, you know, in retrospect my own father did just fine—considering the tools and time that he possessed. Daddy only had until age 39. From there on he needed more care than he was able to give. But give he did. The man loved his son, and he came to love Jesus Christ.
I am thankful for him. His strong and manly embrace was always soothing to me, and he made me feel protected. Even as an old man, he would put the good arm around me, hold on as hard as he could—and weep.
So then......... what more can a man ask of his father? A man who worked hard, loved his family, and faced a tough row to hoe his entire life? Yet he still found enough time...... to change the history of the world.
I pray that God will gather him up and cradle
him deep within His everlasting arms on this Fathers Day.
On January 31, 2001, a small funeral procession made its way from upstate Pennsylvania to Arlington, Virginia. The body that rested under the flag was Joseph S. Bonsall, Sr. His body is now resting in The Hallowed Ground of Arlington National Cemetery. His Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart with Two Clusters earned him the right to be buried and honored in this sacred place. My Father was a true American hero and our little family feels blessed in knowing that only his body sleeps on Arlington. His soul now lives with Jesus and his pain has ended.
The Guns are Now Silent. The Bugle has sounded.
The Nightmares are over.
Photo courtesy of Russell C. Jacobs, August 2006
Posted: 14 February 2001 Updated: 6 November 2001 Updated: 6 June 2002 Updated: 22 February 2003 Updated: 24 December 2003 Updated: 6 June 2004 Updated: 18 September 2005 Updated: 19 August 2006 Updated: 22 September 2008
Photos Courtesy of Holly, September 2008