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Father Honors Son Lost To War By Planting Thousands Of Flags Each Year

Operation Flags for Vets (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)
Operation Flags for Vets (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

The weather was miserable on Cape Cod Saturday morning, but even pelting rain and howling winds couldn’t stop hundreds of volunteers from coming to the Massachusetts National Cemetery to place flags on the more than 70,000 graves for Memorial Day.

This happens in cemeteries across the U.S. every Memorial Day weekend, but there’s something special about what happens at this specific cemetery.

It’s called Operation Flags For Vets, started by Massachusetts resident Paul Monti after his son Jared Monti, an Army sergeant, was killed in Afghanistan. Jared Monti died during a Taliban ambush in 2006.

Jared Monti was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as he tried to pull another soldier who’d been badly wounded to safety. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for that act of bravery.

When Paul Monti visited the cemetery where his son is buried one Memorial Day, he was shocked to see the graves were not decorated with flags. They were prohibited because the gravestones are set flat in the ground and anything around them would make maintenance more difficult.

He convinced officials to change the rules before Memorial Day in 2011 when he staged the first Operation Flags For Vets.

In 2011, Paul Monti told Here & Now he drove his son’s old Dodge pickup truck to the cemetery for that event a decade ago. Connie Harrington, a songwriter in Nashville, heard that conversation on her radio, and it inspired her to co-write the song “I Drive Your Truck.”

Country star Lee Brice recorded the song, and in 2013 it won the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year award.

Paul Monti still drives his son’s 20-year-old pickup truck. He drove it to the cemetery Saturday for another Operation Flags For Vets.

“It’s running really well,” he says. “I actually went out and bought another vehicle, so that I don’t have to use it every single day. He’s with me in there. It’s getting a little messy because I refuse to vacuum because his DNA is all over it.”

Alex Ashlock produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Ashlock also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.