Patriotic effort of 1976 resonates strongly with active military members
By Ben Platt
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The USS Hornet was a legendary aircraft carrier during World War II, and in 1969 it was the ship that retrieved the Apollo 11 astronauts when they returned to earth after their historic moon landing. On Saturday night, the old carrier, which is now a museum near Oakland, played host to the U.S. Marines, who celebrated their 240th birthday at their annual Marine Ball. Among the hundreds of Marines in attendance was a famous Marine reservist named Rick Monday, who was one of the guests of honor.
"This means a lot," said Monday, who attended the event with his wife Barbaralee. "Tonight is a special night. When I think back to when I was a Marine Corps recruit so many years ago, and you hear about the Marine Ball -- and to have it onboard the USS Hornet, the retired aircraft carrier that has had so much history of itself. Combine the history of the Hornet, the history of the Marines; it's the perfect matchup for the Marine Corps Ball."
Of course Monday, who has the distinction of being the first player chosen when the MLB amateur Draft was instituted in 1965, and who also hit a pennant-winning home run for the Dodgers in 1981, was not invited the Marine Corps Ball for his successful career as a ballplayer and broadcaster. It was for his actions on the afternoon of April 25, 1976, when the former Marine, then an outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, prevented two people from burning an American flag on the field at Dodger Stadium.
"Grabbing the burning flag is something that gives us a symbol of what we are all trying to do," said lieutenant colonel Garth P. Massey, commanding officer, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines. "We're all trying to take a moment and help protect the country, help protect each other, take care of each other. So, when veterans like that come back and give us their story, and spend time with us, it's huge. It connects us with everything we care about."
Next April will be the 40th anniversary of Monday's saving of the flag, and he has been given countless awards and citations for his action over the last 39 years, but he never gets tired of being asked about the incident.
"I never get tired talking about it, because I never get tired about living in the greatest country in the world -- that being the United States of America," said Monday, who will be in the radio booth for his 24th season with the Dodgers in 2016. "It's only gotten here because people like these Marines that we have here tonight at the Marine Corps Ball have made a commitment to protect the rights and freedoms, not just here, but also abroad. Marines never ask why. They ask two questions, 'Where? And when?' And that's why, when old glory is flying, we know the rights and freedoms of this country are well protected.
As part of the 40th anniversary of his saving the flag, Monday and his wife plan on touring with the flag to more than the 14 states they toured in 2006. Over the past decade, the Monday's have raised more than a half of million dollars for military charities.
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.