Paul just gave and gave, and he wanted the veterans to be taken care of.
It’s a well-known story in these parts. Paul Monti, ’70, was at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne on Veterans Day 2006, when he noticed there were no flags marking the graves of the nearly 80,000 veterans buried there. He was told flags were not allowed – they interfered with the upkeep of the 750-acre site.
Mr. Monti decided this wasn’t right and proceeded to do something about it.
It took more than four years, but he persuaded state officials to change the policy. He also founded Operation Flags for Vets. Now, every Veterans Day and Memorial Day the cemetery becomes a sea of red, white and blue.
This is only part of the legacy left behind by Mr. Monti, who died of cancer on August 26.
Mr. Monti’s work led him to becoming something of a local celebrity, the face of patriotism and a die-hard supporter of all U.S. veterans.
As Governor Charlie Baker said to The Boston Globe: “The thing that was truly remarkable about him was his decency and his desire to try to find something positive in such a terrible loss.”
That loss was the reason Mr. Monti was at the cemetery on that Veterans Day 16 years ago. Earlier that year, on June 21, his son, Army Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, had been killed in action in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. He was 30 years old. Mr. Monti also had two other children, Niccole and Timothy, who both survive him.
The fact that Sergeant Monti died of injuries from a rocket-propelled grenade while attempting to rescue a fellow soldier would, in 2009, earn him the Medal of Honor. As then-President Barack Obama told the story during the award ceremony, “[W]hen these American soldiers saw one of their own – wounded, lying in the open, some 20 yards away, exposed to the approaching enemy – Jared Monti did something no amount of training can instill. His patrol leader said he’d go, but Jared said, ‘No, he is my soldier, I’m going to get him.’ It was written long ago that ‘the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet, notwithstanding, go out to meet it.’ Jared Monti saw the danger before him. And he went out to meet it.”
Before Paul Monti became a proud Gold Star Father, he was an educator. He taught earth science at Stoughton High School for 35 years, retiring in 2005.
“He had students everywhere,” recalled his sister, Jean Monti. A teacher in Brockton herself, sitting in the dining room of her home about a mile from campus, she recounted her brother’s love of teaching and devotion to his students. “No matter where we went, people came up and said, ‘I had Mr. Monti …’ He was always so proud of his students.”
Ms. Monti said her brother was driven by a desire to minister to others; it’s the family way. Her parents, Joseph and Mary Monti, were active in the church and community in Braintree, where Paul was the fifth child of 13. The list of the family’s charitable endeavors would fill a full page.
“Paul was humble, Jared was humble. I guess it’s the way we are,” Ms. Monti said. “My father was like that. You do the right thing, that’s what Paul lived by.”
With the death of his son, the focus of Mr. Monti’s life understandably shifted. “Paul’s life mission after Jared passed was to make sure no soldier is forgotten,” his sister said.
Along with founding Operation Flags for Vets, Mr. Monti developed the fundraising ventures Monti’s Run, and the SFC Jared C. Monti Charitable Foundation.
Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School also offers a scholarship in Jared’s name, started by his father.
Much of Paul Monti’s time in recent years was spent giving speeches and supporting organizations that benefit veterans. He earned national attention after mentioning in a radio interview that in order to stay close to his late son he continued to drive his truck around his adopted hometown of Raynham. Country songwriter Connie Harrington heard the interview and was inspired to co-write the hit song, “I Drive Your Truck.” It became a number one hit on country radio for singer Lee Brice, and earned Song of the Year honors at the 47th annual Country Music Association Awards, as well as Song of the Year at the 49th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
Even after he was severely weakened by the cancer that would take his life, Mr. Monti continued to make appearances on behalf of veterans and his son’s memory. His message, especially to young people, always involved the three maxims he himself lived by: Always try your hardest, never give up, and do the right thing.
“Paul just gave and gave, and he wanted the veterans to be taken care of,” Jean Monti said.
His message clearly resonated. As Governor Baker told The Globe following Mr. Monti’s death: “The guy had a huge following because of who he was and what he meant to so many people. He was so unassuming, too. He had no idea, I don’t think, of the sort of influence he had on people, just by being who he was.”
It’s true that Paul Monti exemplified the motto of his alma mater, Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” However, there’s little doubt that he would want the last words here to focus not on himself, but on his heroic son. As President Obama said on that day during the September 2009 ceremony when Jared Monti was honored with the Medal of Honor: “Compassion. Perseverance. Strength. A love for his fellow soldiers. Those are the values that defined Jared Monti’s life – and the values he displayed in the actions that we recognize here today.”
Truly, the apple did not fall far from the tree.