Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Day for Heroes, chapter 3: Rick Monday

Tuesday marked the 30 year anniversary of another heroic event that captured the hearts of Americans across the nation. Rick Monday served his country for six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, but what he will always be remembered and revered for was done in a different sort of uniform.
Rick Monday; photo by James Roarke, APMonday was playing center field for the Chicago Cubs on April 25, 1976, at Dodger Stadium when he noticed two protesters kneeling on the grass in left-center, intending to burn the American flag. He immediately bolted toward them and snatched it away.
"Whatever their protest was about, what they were attempting to do to the flag — which represents a lot of rights and freedoms that we all have — was wrong for a lot of reasons," Monday said. "Not only does it desecrate the flag, but it also desecrates the effort and the lives that have been laid down to protect those rights and freedoms for all of us."
"I know the people were very pleased to see Monday take the flag away from those guys," recalled Manny Mota, Monday's teammate that season and now a Dodgers coach. "I know Rick has done a lot of good things as a player and as a person. But what he did for his country, he will be remembered for the rest of his life as an American hero."
I actually remember this happening, as we prepared to celebrate the American Bicentennial in the small town where I grew up. My grandfather was an avid baseball fan, and partly due to his influence I was just beginning to become a fan of the great American pastime as I approached my teenage years. And while Monday's efforts may not have saved lives, as Captain Ed points out his actions went a long way toward fanning the flames of patriotism that were so visibly absent in that lean year.
For those too young to recall, the nation had reached what we thought was the depth of our national crisis of confidence. A year earlier, we had watched on television as the last Americans in Saigon had to be airlifted out by helicopter from our doomed embassy as the North Vietnamese overran the allies we abandoned in 1973. Two years earlier, our President resigned from the office he disgraced, taking the credibility of the national law-enforcement and intelligence agencies with him.

With the bicententennial of the Declaration of Independence coming up, the country had started a celebration of the event that overloaded on red, white, and blue. The nation tried to put on a coat of faux patriotism it didn't really feel, and the entire effort felt commercialized and hypocritical. With Independence Day two months away, many already had had enough of the celebration.

However, when Monday took off with the flag, all of the cynicism and defeatism of the past two years melted away. Watching Monday rescue the flag from two lunatics who tried to hijack a baseball game for their protest, which would have provided the perfect nadir of American morale at that time, the crowd did something no one expected. Lasorda recalled in his book that starting softly, the crowd started singing "God Bless America", completely unprompted, until all of the tens of thousands of Dodger fans had joined together to sing it. It was one of the few unscripted and spontaneous patriotic displays in our Bicentennial, and one of the most moving at any time.
Even in my little town in rural Texas, everyone was rooting for the Cubs and Rick Monday that year.

UPDATE: My buddy Brainster just posted a link to this video coverage of Monday's historic play to rescue the flag. The video report also includes a recent interview of Monday talking about that day. — Songbird, 05/26/2006


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