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Monday, May 30, 2011

A Father’s Memorial Day Labor Of Love

Paul Monti is pictured with his son Jared's truck in 2011. Jared Monti was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. Paul still drives Jared's truck. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Mark Reilly takes a moment to reflect and read some of the thousands of names. "As sad as it is, it feels really good to recognize the veterans." (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Sadie Grace Tilden, of Pembroke walks through Bourne National Cemetery. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Butch Mongelli, of Woburn, MA, served in Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraqi Freedom (at the age of 57). He points to a sticker on his motorcyle helmet that reads, "In memory of those who perished or never returned from Vietnam." Mongelli has always taken part in Rolling Thunder's annual Washington DC demonstration, but this year he chose to help plant flags at the Bourne cemetary. "I love my flag. I love my country.... I have red, white, and blue running through my veins. And it's not just because of my tatoos either." (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Ilene Klaver, of North Attleboro, Mass., is one of the thousands of volunteers helping to honor each veteran by planting a flag next to each of the 56,000 headstones. Klaver's own son has been serving in Afghanistan since April. "I am just here to say thank you. What he's done is a wonderful thing. I'm really proud of him for serving. Hopefully no more [soldiers] will be here." (Anna Miller/Here & Now)From left to right: George Loring, Joe White, Butch Massey, and Robert Theodore. Joe White, of Belmont, MA, (center): "Anytime when we can serve living and past veterans, we do." He is one of the thousands Rolling Thunder motorcycle riders, who honor POWS and those still missing in action. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Matt Monti (left), uncle of Pfc. Jared Monti who was killed in Afghanistan, and First Sargent Vossmer direct volunteer Nancy Stewart. The parents of both Stewart and her husband are buried at the National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Elliotte Arthurs (left) and Don Brenner, both of the Cape Cod Marine Cops League Detachment 125 at the ceremony. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Seventh grader Dylan Jones of the Young Marines says, "It's a great honor to put flags on veteran's graves." (Anna Miller/Here & Now)In memory of Alexander Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Boy Scout Andrew Beattie of Plymouth, MA, discovered that his great grandfather and great uncle are both buried at the national cemetery. "I've been finding my family...I can't believe they served." Beattie saluted while his father placed a flag next to each of their family members' graves. (Anna Miller/Here & Now)Diane Sulser, of Natick, MA, plants a flag next to one of the headstones. "Both my son's are being deployed on the 16th of June. I'm here to support my sons and everyone else involved in the military." (Anna Miller/Here & Now)

By Alex Ashlock

BOURNE, Mass– On this Memorial Day, American flags are flying on the graves at the National Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts thanks to a man named Paul Monti. Paul’s son, Sgt. First Class Jared Monti, was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, while trying to save a buddy who had been seriously wounded.

Sgt. Monti was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery that day and he was buried in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. But when his father visited the cemetery on Veterans Day that year, he was shocked to see there were no American flags on the graves.

“I’m overwhelmed at the support, the patriotism of all of you… As you place a flag,  say a small prayer for these veterans.

– Father Paul Monti, speaking to a crowd at Bourne National Cemetery

Cemetery rules prohibited the flags, because the grave markers are flush with the ground so anything placed above them makes maintenance difficult, especially when the grass needs to be cut. Paul Monti thought that was ridiculous, so he convinced officials to change the rules and he also started a project called Flags For Vets that came to fruition on Saturday, when hundreds of volunteers came to the cemetery and helped Paul Monti place flags on all of the more than 50,000 graves there.

They came by the busload, kids with their parents and their grandparents, sons and daughters whose fathers and mothers are buried at the cemetery, Boy Scouts and Vietnam veterans on Harleys. Many of them, in fact most of them, didn’t know Paul or Jared Monti.

“I’m overwhelmed at the support, the patriotism of all of you,” Paul Monti told the crowd. “This cemetery has been open for 31 years and never have they had flags on the individual graves here. In the crowd around you there are many Gold Star families. We are the ones who have lost someone near or dear to us. Many of us lost them in battle. Please as you place a flag say a small prayer for these veterans. Maybe if you could write down the names, go home and look them up on the Internet. You’ll be surprised what you will find.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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