Spouse Calls: Heartfelt song remembers soldier
Stars and Stripes March 30, 2008
The crowded chapel is quiet. Elisabeth Ridderhoff stands at the keyboard and strikes the first chords. The lyrics flow — just like the day she wrote them — beginning with grief and ending in comfort for a soldier’s bereft family.
“No tears, no pain and no more harm/ Only peace and contentment in the Everlasting Arms … ”
A singer and songwriter, Elisabeth is also an Army wife and mother of three. The meaning of her song, “Soldier Girl,” goes deep in her life. She wrote it about a family friend, Amy Duerksen, the daughter of a soldier and a soldier herself, who died while in Iraq. She was 19.
Elisabeth, who lives in Germany, remembers hearing of Amy’s death in March 2006. Elisabeth said her sister, Christy Palmer — also an Army wife — and her family are especially close to the Duerksens.
“I was feeling just very far away,” said Elisabeth. “I was talking to my nieces … and trying to comfort them, but I couldn’t be there.”
An e-mail from Amy’s parents, Army chaplain Doug Duerksen and his wife Michelle, was inspiring to Elisabeth.
“I had read it over and over that week. Their faith was so amazingly apparent, and I was … very moved by it.”
The day of Amy’s funeral in Texas, Elisabeth sat down in Germany with pen, paper and piano and wrote “Soldier Girl” in about 20 minutes.
The words were inspired by the Duerksen’s e-mail. In fact, Elisabeth listed the Duerksens as co-writers on the song’s copyright.
“I don’t want it to ever lose where it came from,” she explained.
Being Army wives is one bond between Elisabeth and her sister, Christy. Music is another. Christy sings, plays guitar and has a recording studio in her basement. A few months after writing “Soldier Girl,” when Elisabeth was visiting the States, the sisters recorded the song.
“On the one-year anniversary of Amy’s death, my sister was able to send her mother a recording of the song,” Elisabeth said.
Singing the song for a Memorial Day service, two months after Amy died, was one of the hardest performances of her life, Elisabeth said.
“I feel a determination before a song like that now,” Elisabeth said. “I fill my mind with the determination to tell this story, so that I can encourage other moms, dads, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and friends that have ever had to pay the ultimate sacrifice.”
She said people respond to the message in “Soldier Girl,” and she has received repeated invitations to sing it.
“Most people respond in tears, but hopeful tears,” Elisabeth said. “Music can be a beautiful outlet for grief to pour out and healing to occur.”
She said she has no plans for the song, only hopes.
“I really wish someone would take this song that’s bigger than me and do something with it for (the Duerksens) and not for me,” she said. “I dream that it could help other people, but it is enough if it’s only for them and for April.” Amy’s sister, April, is also a soldier.
For more about Elisabeth and her music, see the latest post on the Spouse Calls blog. Listen to “Soldier Girl” at Elisabeth’s site on MySpace.com.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein AB. Send questions or comments to her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls