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.