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Irlene Mandrell...

Gives thanks to Soldiers through song

 

By: Gina Kay Singerhouse

Editor

 

   He can remember when they had built the bridge just on the edge of town.  He must have been nine or ten at the time; he and his buddy would ride their bikes down there and watch as the crews work on building it.  Little did he know…

   He remembers the ribbon cutting ceremony that was held upon the completion of that bridge, because he and his buddy were there.  It wasn’t a big bridge like those you see in the cities.  For their little ole town, it was big enough. Little did they know…

   The following summer and every summer after that, he and his buddy played in the creek under that bridge.  As they turned into young teenagers, they spent their summers fishing and swimming near the bridge.  Once his buddy caught a catfish that swallowed the hook whole that they had to cut the line and throw the fish back.  If only he could go back…

   High school brought girls and campfires, near that bridge.  After graduation, the two of them spent one last day together, under that bridge.  He went off to college and his buddy went off to join the military.  Little did they both know…

   Het met his buddy, under that bridge, not to long ago.  They were talking while skipping rocks and drinking a beer…

   “They’re sending me off to war…” said his buddy.  “I leave the day after tomorrow…”

   His heart sank as he heard the news.  If only he had known…

   He never thought, in a million years, that he would hear those words.  The words that his father told him over the phone…

   “...was killed in war.”

   He sits upon a rock under that bridge and takes a sip of a beer as a tear rolls down his face.  Looking out over the creek, he is reminded of a long forgotten memory of his buddy.

   The Army flew his friend’s body home and he thought that was hard to see. The town all came out to welcome home their hometown hero, as the hearse drove down Main Street.

   Throughout the funeral, he was sitting next to his friend’s mother.  It took all of his courage not to cry, especially when they presented her with the folded flag at the grave site service.

  Tomorrow, in a ceremony, they’ll name this bridge after his friend.  A friend who died, fighting for his freedoms.

   The great land of the free, has many bridges.  Nonetheless, how many bridges are named after those who fought for those freedoms? 

   Country music entertainer and television star, Irlene Mandrell captures this scene in her new song called “Sgt. Kelly’s Bridge.”

 

Sgt. Kelly’s Bridge

 

 There’s a bridge I cross on my way home,

I never paid it any mind until a year ago.

Back then, it was just a way across Ingram’s creek,

Back then, it didn’t mean a thing to me.

 

But it’s different now, a local hero fell

And the Army flew his body home
from that God forsaken hell

 

 And the flag flew at half mast on the court house square,

While the parade wound on out of town as the county fare

past the swimming pool and the old high school
and the graveyard on the ridge,

just the other side of Sgt. Michael Kelly’s Bridge

 

 He left behind a wife, a young mother

He left behind a daughter and his son

He left behind a mom and dad, he was their only one

They were so proud of all he’s done

 

 Before the war I made a promise to my best friend,

If he didn’t come home, I’d watch out for them.

 

 And the flag flew at half mast on the court house square,

While the parade wound on out of town as the county fare

past the swimming pool and the old high school
and the graveyard on the ridge,

just the other side of Sgt. Michael Kelly’s Bridge

 

 Of all the roads and bridges that we cross

Named for the heroes that we lost

Let us not forget that they’ve paid the price

To give us our freedom with what they’ve sacrificed

 

 And the flag flew at half mast on the court house square,

While the parade wound on out of town as the county fare

past the swimming pool and the old high school
and the graveyard on the ridge,

just the other side of Sgt. Michael Kelly’s Bridge

 

  This song is the first of two songs from this beautiful album to hit our list of Top Songs of 2018, while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award and Spirit of America Award.

   “The writers had written it about their friend. Pat [Irlene’s husband and producer of the project] and I had changed at least a third of the song.” shares Irlene Mandrell.  “Because it was written where he talked about growing up and they rode in the sports car together and this and that.  So we changed that, but we wanted to add it at the end to make it about all of the bridges that everybody thinks about constantly, all the time. Now, it’s ‘Sgt. Kelly’s Bridge,’ but it used to be ‘Sgt. Michael Kelly’s Bridge,’ for the original. So, we changed at least a third of the song to fit me. I always change it if it’s a guy song to a girl thing. We did a lot of re-writing and it was good before; but I really like how it gets out there and touches for everybody.”

   In late 2017, Irlene recorded a beautiful Patriotic album called Thanks To You.  The eleven cut album features the talents from her children—Vanessa, Christina, Deric, as well as her husband Pat.

   The album took several years to record.  The first song “We Will Stand” was released in 2015.

   “It took us a while, but Reviver [records] came in and said if you finish that up, we’ll put it out!” laughs Irlene.  “So we were still listening to songs going ‘we’ll put that on the next album or something.’ ‘Cause there were so many good songs that we heard.  They’d come in and we’re like we’ll add one more...so we thought that we’d just finish it up! We were really thrilled to get it out.”

   The album includes two cover songs.  Among those you will hear a new rendition of John Michael Montogmery’s 2004 hit song “Letters From Home” and Lonestar’s 2001 hit “I’m Already There.”

   Nonetheless it’s the other nine songs that are truly amazing.  Among these songs you will find “The Boots My Momma Wears,” a heartfelt song about what life is like for the families of active soldiers.
   “That was from a true story!” exclaims Mandrell.  “There was a little girl who wrote a letter to her mom, who was over seas and somebody saw that letter and said I need to make a song of that. So it was composed from an actual letter.”

   “The Boots My Momma Wears” is the second to earn a position on our list of Top Songs of 2018, while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award and Spirit of America Award.

   Irlene knows first hand the sacrifices soldiers face while serving.  Her father, Irby Mandrell, served in the United States Navy as a Pharmacist Mate, also known as a corpsman. 

   “What really got us close to the military… when Louise and I were too young… I love saying this, because Barbara was a teenager…” laughs Irlene, the youngest of the three.  “Well, we stayed with our aunt and uncle...they [Barbara, Irby, Mary and the rest of the band] went over seas, but not USO.  They went over seas. It was private promotions so they would go to places where the men didn’t get entertainment. I remember mom [Mary] talking about how they’d drop them off real quick, in a helicopter. That it was kind of bloody and they were going back for wounded. There were times that they’d think it was kind of dangerous… but our guys always protected them.  It was just last summer while I was in Mississippi some where that somebody came up and told me about how he was there and he goes ‘we didn’t get entertainment from home!’ He goes ‘I don’t know if they have any idea how that boosted our morale.’ It’s so good to hear.

  “They would come back talking about the men…” continues Irlene.  “Barbara had a story… she said one of the hardest things she ever did was went into...where they had the hospital, it would have been like a MASH unit, because a guy had requested to hear ‘Danny Boy’ and they said you need to get in there ‘cause he may not make it through the hour. She had to be strong and sing it to him. So, it was really rough; of course she didn’t show it to him.”

   Irlene carries on the family patriotism within her album, especially with songs like “United We Stand,” “We Will Stand,” and “The Cloth He Was Cut From.”  Most notably, Irlene’s vast respect for those who had served and those who continue to serve is found in the title cut.  In this poetic song, Irlene sends a message of gratitude while encouraging service members to be proud of their service. Due to their sacrifices, Americans can enjoy their freedoms.

   The Mandrells have always been known for their respect for God and Country.  The album includes a song that combines the two with “Somebody Died For Me.” This song was written by, Barbara’s daughter-in-law, Gospel singer Christy Sutherland.

   “She recorded it and so did a lot of Christian artists. It’s appropriate also because of the military in the story.” shares Irlene.  “Well some it’s a true story.  She [Christy] was on the road with Louise and on the news somebody was at his best friend’s funeral with his best friend’s family and they said that his best friend died saving his life.  Christy wrote the story around it… ‘Somebody Died For Me.’ So its partially true.”

   The album closes with a heartfelt ballad called “You Live On.”

   “The one that’s both personal to me, that I really chose...even though I’m sure it’s appropriate for a lot of people on the patriotic album…” explains Irlene. “My dad was a World War II Veteran, but that’s not how he died.  The song ‘You Live On,’ I picked that because of my Daddy.”

  The song is performed in a heartfelt ballad.  Nonetheless it is Irlene’s tender and emotional vocals that bring this song to the forefront of this incredible album.  This song is the final song from this album to earn a place on our list of Top Songs of 2018, while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award.

   “You feel lucky that you understand and you don’t get it, when people don’t get it.” expresses Irlene about her feelings for respect for our nation’s real heroes.

   Irlene continues to perform at limited engagements.  She recently performed for the Joshua Chamberlain Society (https://www.chamberlainsociety.org/) to help raise funds and show support for our wounded soldiers.

   On November 9, 2018, Irlene will share the stories behind the songs on this album on Strictly Country’s Friday night radio show—Around The Campfire

Strictly Country Magazine's Around The Campfire radio show - Irlene Mandrell advertisement

   “I love the country songs and singing about the heartbreak and the other stuff, ‘cause it’s fun!” shares Irlene.  “Where my heart is, is really for them [soldiers] and our first responders! I was proud to get the album out, because it is dedicated to all of our heroes.”

(This article was printed in the May / June 2018 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)

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