BOURNE, Mass. — Paul Monti used to be a teacher. On Saturday, he taught us all a lesson about the power of one idea.
Monti’s son, Army Specialist First Class Jared C. Monti, was killed in Afghanistan in 2006, while trying to rescue another soldier who had been severely wounded. Jared was buried in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, and when his father visited the cemetery on Veterans Day that year, he was shocked to see there were no American flags on the graves.
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.”
In 2009, Jared Monti was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s higher honor for valor for his actions on a mountain in Afghanistan in 2006. He’s buried in section 11 at the Massachusetts National Cemetery, where American flags now dot the landscape, thanks to his dad.