A proud military mom who wanted to honor her only son with a song touched a nerve among pro-troops Americans as she wrote and recorded that tune and began spreading it far and near.
“So Brave” is a song by Angela Lashley, whose son, Jonathan, is a young U.S. Army soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division. About a year ago, Jonathan “felt compelled” to suddenly leave college and join the Army. The evening after Jonathan flew off to join the service, Angela asked her husband, “When did he become so brave?” They began to discuss events during his childhood that showed something of a pattern. Later, the events discussed that night were written into rhyme, and “So Brave” became a song shortly thereafter.
Angela grew up in Brookfield, Wis. (near Milwaukee), and had a musical bent. By age 12, she had written her first song. And, at age 16 (during summer breaks from high school), she began to do road tours with a group made entirely of her relatives. People told her that she was talented and that she should move to Nashville to pursue a music career. Instead, she got married and raised a family. Despite repeated urgings – from friends, relatives and music professionals – Angela and her husband stayed in Brookfield until the children were grown. “I wanted them to have a stable upbringing,” Angela told this writer.
Eventually, with the encouragement of her husband (and some Nashville writers), Angela made an exploratory move to Nashville almost three years ago. She was able to make some contacts and has landed some opportunities, including writing with an established “row writer.” Her husband then joined her in Nashville, after it looked as though Angela could actually begin a songwriting career. But, she had not struck out on her own.
Angela emphasized, “I came to Nashville to become a songwriter, not an artist.” When their son got orders to the war in Iraq, Angela put her feelings into words and music. Friends in the music industry told Angela not to pitch the song to an artist. No one else could carry those mother’s feelings into a studio. Anyone else would only carry a melody. So, suddenly, Angela had become a recording artist. [A snippet of the song can be heard via Angela's website.]
Jonathan and Angela Lashley
The story of “So Brave” is several stories intertwined. For example, the photo here was taken only two hours before Jonathan boarded an airplane to return to Fort Bragg for his first deployment to Iraq. The photo started off as simply a family memento. “We took those photos, ate some lunch and then put him on the plane,” Angela said. The song came later, and the photo is now the cover for the CD-single release.
Like most mothers, Angela is proud of her son. She is especially proud of Jonathan’s tendency to stand up for his friends. While growing up, Jonathan had a best friend named Brandon, who was smaller than his classmates. Bullies used to pick on Brandon.
Angela said, “My son took many lumps for Brandon, because he’s small. Jonathan used to stand up for Brandon all the time.” Protecting his friend from bullies is part of Jonathan’s story in “So Brave”. (Brandon is the “little guy” in the second verse.) The song conveys the idea that standing up to terrorists is an extension of standing up to bullies.
The song asks, “Was it then – do you remember when – you learned to be so brave?” Jonathan and Brandon have continued their friendship to this day – and their roles have somewhat reversed. Jonathan is a member of a Quartermaster unit, which handles supplies and logistics. Brandon is in a Stryker Brigade – a direct-combat unit. The same day that “So Brave” was being recorded in Nashville, Brandon was shot in Iraq. He was treated in a military hospital, issued the Combat Action Badge and then returned to full duty in October.
Handling supplies in a war zone is not necessarily a “safe” job, though. Angela related that Jonathan was also awarded a Combat Action Badge for helping to hold off an enemy penetration of a forward supply depot.
“He doesn’t go into much detail,” Angela explained, “because he doesn’t want to worry me. Ha! But, he grabbed a weapon and helped hold off about 20 of them until help arrived”
Jonathan returned home for a brief respite in mid-December – thus answering the “Christmas wish” in the refrain of the song.
“I know that God has His hand on this whole story,” Angela said. Even the rough parts are smoothed by the family’s faith in God. Only two hours after he returned from a four-month deployment to Iraq, Jonathan found out that his leave would be cut short, and he would deploy again. (He got four days at home with his family, followed by a week of preparations at Fort Bragg, before returning to Iraq.)
“So Brave” has become an inspiration to soldiers, family members and those that care about U.S. troops. The song gets top reviews on every website where it is sold. But, the song has not enjoyed commercial success, nor even much radio airplay.
“I know that it played on Armed Forces Radio in Iraq one time,” said Angela. “Beyond that, I can’t get any confirmation.” It has not faired much better on Stateside commercial stations. The song was played on the radio in San Francisco by Melanie Morgan, a pro-military talk-show host and WorldNetDaily columnist. Talk-radio giant G. Gordon Liddy also played it on his program when he interviewed Angela recently. So far, though, she says sales of “So Brave” have not even covered the cost of recording. (Still, Angela has given away free copies of the CD to military moms in the D.C. area and elsewhere.) Adding to the frustration are rumors of bootleg downloads and pirated copies.
“Some in the media have shut out the story of this song, which comes from a military mother’s mouth, because it has a positive angle.” Angela said that other people contacted media outlets, requesting to hear the song or learn more about the story behind it. They got no replies.
“The ‘mainstream’ ignores the unheard majority. If this was a protest song, it would be all over the airwaves,” she explained. Despite the cold shoulder from most news outlets and commercial radio stations, “So Brave” has been endorsed by the Blue Star Mothers of America Inc.
“So Brave” also got the endorsement of Angela’s most important “critic”: her son. Via e-mail from Iraq, he previously told a U.S. Army reporter, “The song isn’t just about me, but all the brave soldiers, Marines, airmen and seamen who have to come over here away from their families for extended periods of time. That’s what this song is all about. We are all ‘So Brave’ over here.”
During the entire interview for this story, Angela was careful not to use the name of a woman who has come to symbolize the antithesis of a military mother: Cindy Sheehan.
“The song originally had no political tones,” Angela explained. “But, it has become political, because of ‘the infamous mother,’ who has embarrassed so many of us military mothers. In contrast, there is a vast ‘unheard majority’ that I represent. I’ve become ‘an activist for the non-activists.’ And, as if we don’t have enough to worry about with our children in war zones, mothers nationwide have told me of their concern about mistreatment of soldiers because of others in the media.”
Angela’s husband, Jeff, describes his role in this story: “I’m just the driver. She makes the speeches.”
He related some details that make Jonathan’s story all the more fascinating.
Not only was Jonathan in college – studying criminal justice with an eye toward a career in law enforcement and education – but he was also a part-time loading supervisor with United Parcel Service before he abruptly joined the Army. His freshman year in high school, Jonathan was already 6’2″ tall, and weighed about 250 pounds. “And, not much of it was fat,” his dad explained. So, Jonathan was recruited for the school football team. After only a few weeks of practice, though, Jonathan decided to drop from the team. Why? “He didn’t want to hurt the other boys on the field. He had that ‘gentle giant’ personality. But, he can take care of himself when he needs to,” Jeff said. Jonathan helping to hold a supply depot against an enemy attack underscored that point.
One summer, when Jonathan was 8 years old, he contracted an illness. At first, it seemed to be a case of strep throat. “My sister is a pediatrician,” Jeff explained. When the illness didn’t go away after a normal amount of time, she prescribed Jonathan some antibiotics. The illness lingered. After baseball practice one day, Jonathan couldn’t walk. Further investigation by doctors discovered a previously undetected severe bone infection that had settled in his hip. “If his aunt hadn’t prescribed those antibiotics when she did, Jonathan could’ve lost a leg, or even died. But, from his hospital bed, his question to me was, ‘Dad, will I be able to finish baseball season?’”
After Jonathan had made his decision to join the Army, but before leaving home, Jeff treated his son to a ski trip. They went to Jackson Hole, Wyo. Early one morning, father and son went for a walk in the “downtown” area.
“We were walking on one side of the street, and a small herd of deer were walking on the other side of the street. It was a really memorable moment. It should be in a movie,” Jeff related. But, the proud father would not reveal the details of the discussion with his son. “I wouldn’t want to embarrass Jonathan.”
The existence of the song and the press coverage – by the Army, as well as civilian writers – has made Jonathan the butt of some good-natured ribbing by the other young men in his unit. But, some of those same men listen to copies of “So Brave” that were sent to them by their own parents.
The obvious love and pride of this father begs the question of whether “So Brave” – which has been nicknamed “the military mothers’ anthem” – should instead be called “the military parents’ anthem.”
So, what will become of this song and the mother that wrote it? At first, she turned down invitations to perform the song publicly. But, Angela will now be performing and speaking in public, because she has been invited to do so by groups of military families at Fort Bragg and groups of Blue Star Mothers in various locations around the country. Despite her growing notoriety, Angela turned down an appearance on the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity and Colmes” political TV show. Why? Because they wanted to pit her against an anti-war activist.
As her public appearances continue to increase, Angela Lashley has become “an ambassador for the unheard majority.” She is frustrated by “… the watering down of the meaning of the word ‘support.’ You can’t say that you support a soldier while wanting to cut funding for soldiers. You can use a lot of words, but ‘support’ is not one of them. This country is tired of letting celebrities undermine things while we’re making progress toward success.” As the song gains notoriety, and as she has begun making those comments around the country, people have told her that “So Brave” speaks for them.
The song expresses feelings that many others have never quite put into words, much less music. But, despite its obvious appeal to military families, “So Brave” is not available for purchase in military PX/BX stores. And, despite the fact that Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores features a collection of patriotic music, it is not available there, either.
“There is no huge monetary source behind it,” Angela explained. “I’m the record label. But, because of grass-roots efforts, the song is making progress. It has begun to get some airplay – even without a paid publicist. When was the last time you heard a song on the radio that promoted a parent’s love for a child, or a positive message?”
Angela hopes that both the message and the money from the song will have positive effects. Even though she has her own website for the song, she wants people to order the CD from another website. Which one? Angela explained, “A portion of the proceeds from ‘So Brave’ will go to support the charitable group Soldiers Angels.” That group sends “care and comfort” items to our troops in combat zones and hospitals. Even while Angela has thousands of unsold CDs sitting in her house, she is trying to help others raise money via her song. Coming from such a civic-minded background, no wonder her son is “So Brave.”
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Tom Kovach lives near Nashville, is a former USAF Blue Beret, and has written for several online publications. He recently published his first book. Tom is an inventor, a horse wrangler, a certified paralegal and a former talk-radio host. He has also run for Congress. To learn more, visit his website.