Memorial Day, 2014
Once again we reach that moment each year when we stop, however briefly, to honor the men and women who have given their lives in the service of this nation in the more than two hundred years of our history.
There will be ceremonies at our national cemeteries, and overseas at the twenty-five cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The ABMC also maintains twenty-six memorials, monuments, and markers, three of which are located in Washington, D.C. These are the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the World War I American Expeditionary Forces Memorial. All three were established by the ABMC but are maintained by the National Park Service.
In New England, where I live, the largest national cemetery is the Massachusetts National Cemetery located in Bourne, on the upper end of Cape Cod, where some 57,000 veterans (two of them Medal of Honor recipients) are buried.
The other day a call went out over the radio and in local newspapers for volunteers to participate in Operation Flags for Vets, a program started by the father of Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, one of the two Medal of Honor recipients buried in Bourne.
At the time of his death, Monti was a staff sergeant serving with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan in June 2006 when his patrol, operating along a steep mountain, came under heavy attack from some 50 enemy fighters. In the ensuring battle Monti heroically sacrificed his life attempting to rescue a fallen comrade who was lying exposed in open ground. You can read his Medal of Honor citation here.
Before Operation Flags for Vets began four years ago, cemetery policy did not permit flags to be placed at the graves. Monti’s father, Paul, thought that was wrong and became a strong advocate for a change in cemetery policy that not only caught on, but brought about what is common practice elsewhere in other cemeteries across America, both national and private.
On May 24, hundreds of volunteers (each with a long-handled screwdriver) will assemble at the flagpole located at the end of Avenue of Flags for a brief ceremony before they disperse to place the flags. It is a labor of love that will be replicated in hundreds of cemeteries across America this Memorial Day.
In 2011, Paul Monti was interviewed on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” and mentioned that as a means of keeping his son’s memory alive “I drive his truck,” a 2001 Dodge Ram. A songwriter named Connie Harrington happened to hear the interview while driving (yes, in a pickup truck) and quickly scribbled Monti’s quote on a Post-it note. Later, with two co-writers, Jimmy Yeary and Jessi Alexander, Harrington composed an emotional and powerful ballad that was recorded in 2012 by country music singer Lee Brice called “I Drive Your Truck.”
The song quickly became so popular that it not reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in 2013 but also won Song of the Year at the 47th Annual Country Music Association awards and at the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
In May 2013, a “No 1 Party” was held in Nashville. Paul Monti was an honored guest and drove to Nashville in his son’s Dodge Ram where he met Lee Brice and the three songwriters. Instead of a typical event that is held to promote No. 1 songs, it became a moving ceremony for Monti, Brice, and the three songwriters. As one of the promoters noted to Paul Monti: “We wonder how we can say thank you to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. [Harrington, Yeary and Alexander] were able to say ‘thank you’ in a way that the whole world will know of the great service of your son.” (Source: Jessica Nicolson, Music Row website, May 14, 2013)
It turned out that the day “I Drive Your Truck” was finished coincided with the anniversary of Jared Monti’s death. Although his father called it “a great example of divine intervention,” he has never been able to listen to the entire song. (Source: Marc Larocque, article in Taunton [Mass.] Daily Gazette , May 20, 2013)
This year is particularly special because Memorial Day also falls close to June 6, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the great D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944.
As I wrote in this column several years ago, I ask each of you to take just a moment this Memorial Day to remember Paul Monti and the more than 1,096,000 men and women, the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, have died serving America.
They have made the ultimate sacrifice and all they ask of us is that we honor and remember them.