PEORIA — Though 12 1/2 years have passed since Brenda Bland’s son was killed in Iraq, his memory is again being celebrated through a music video created by a local musician.
The video featuring the story of U.S. Marines Cpl. Benjamin Desilets is for the song "I'll Buy the Beer" by the Joe Stamm Band. It was released Nov. 1. Bland was delighted to learn a few new things about her son by reading the hundreds of comments left by fans who watched the video.
“When you lose a child, you lose the ability to hear all those stupid things they did, things they didn’t want to tell you about,” said Bland during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “To have all these people talking about and remembering him on Facebook, people I didn’t know who were a part of his life, that was pretty cool.”
Desilets grew up in Elmwood. He was just 21 years old when he was killed May 22, 2007, while conducting combat operations in Anbar province.
Lacon-based musician Joe Stamm didn’t know Desilets before he began working on the video. He only became acquainted with Desilets' family after putting a callout on social media to area families who might be interested in memorializing a lost service member.
“The idea had been in my mind for years and years,” said Stamm. “I wrote the song about 10 years ago, and when we were working on different renditions of the recording, the drummer added a soldier beat. And I thought, ‘what a cool way to honor somebody, some family who has dealt with a loss in a military setting.’”
The truth is, Stamm didn’t even have a member of the military in mind when he began writing the song.
“I had just gotten off the phone with a very close friend of mine, and I got to thinking ‘what would it be like if Jack wasn’t around, if I didn’t have him to talk to?’” said Stamm. “Songwriting is where experience and imagination meet, and sometimes that falls closer to one side than the other. In this case, it was just kind of applying a friendship into a what if. I think it’s one of those universal concepts — most of us have lost someone we want to go back and have a conversation with.”
Though the song has a universal appeal, the video offered a great opportunity to honor a local service member. But the idea made Stamm a little uncomfortable.
“After 9-11 all these people wrote super-patriotic songs and capitalized off it. I didn’t want it to be like that. So I got some advice from a fellow musician who has served overseas, and after that, we announced the idea on our social media platforms and had an overwhelmingly positive reception to it,” said Stamm.
Fifteen families submitted stories for consideration.
“The selection process was really emotional. I had to go through all these stories. It was a really powerful process,” said Stamm.
Desilets was chosen because his family could provide a wealth of visuals — both stills and videos — to tell the story of his life during the four minute video.
“I probably spent about three days looking for pictures,” said Bland. Though she wasn’t the one who answered Stamm’s callout, she was more than happy to participate. She provided images from Desilets' childhood, including videos he made with his sisters Laura and Hannah.
“For a while making videos was their favorite thing to do after school,” said Bland. “I worked full time and they would come home after school and be alone for a while. They made videos a lot of days.”
Along with providing family photos and video, the Desilets family also agreed to appear in the video.
“We filmed one night after work,” said Bland. Family members are shown writing letters to place on Desilets’ grave before making the trip to Fondulac Township Cemetery in East Peoria, where Desilets is buried.
Stamm was careful to include the family in every step of the process — he shared the video with them before it was released so they could approve it. But that didn’t dull the emotions Bland felt the first time she watched it on social media.
“At the end, when Joe says, ‘I’ll buy the beer,’ and Ben’s name and birth and death date came on the screen, it took my breath away.”
See the video and learn more by visiting www.joestammband.com/ben.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.