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Celebrating a Hero’s Special Flag

By: Carl Langley
web posted April 21, 2008
Center: David and Mary Montani
GEUST COLUMN – I was invited to a flag raising on Patriots Day, and this was one ceremony it would have been a shame to miss. I learned about the beauty of the human spirit and the endurance of loving memories. It was on this special, refreshing day that I found myself surrounded with love and remembrance in abundance, and with so many people who love their country.

When Walter McDonald’s flag, quietly flapping in a gentle breeze and its folds reflecting the sheen of the midday sun, went up behind the beautiful house in Aiken’s Woodside Plantation there were more than a few tears shed, and I found myself dabbing at my own eyes. I have never forgotten the ones who saved our country at times of darkest peril.

As this special flag was pulled aloft, I thought how lucky we all are. We Americans are blessed with the safest of harbors, a blessed nation created for us more than 200 years ago.

It has long been defended by men like Walter McDonald.

Walter, if I may be informal, was only 18 when he and his fellow Marines stormed a Japanese-held Pacific Island in 1943. During a fierce firefight along a beach littered with bodies his leg was impaled by a steel rod blown out of machine gun emplacement.

The young Marine cheated death. He survived his awful wound in a hospital in Pearl Harbor, came home to Watertown, Mass., and two years later married his sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth St. John.

Walter was born in the shadows of the very places where America‘s birth as a nation began. He carried the blessings of Concord Bridge and Bunker Hill wherever he went.

He went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency as a young officer, then moved to the Energy Department where he became an assistant secretary for national affairs. His career was marked by distinguished service and he won many awards for his special achievements.

After the war ended Walter and Mary shared their lives for 46 years and raised six children before his death in 1991. Mary, a quiet, smiling and compassionate wife and mother, met David Montani, who also had lost his spouse. The two married and became the parents of 16 children.

“David had 10 children of his own, and they have a big family,” a friend told me.

I found it rather remarkable that on this special day between the house and the lake at 126 Tall Pine Drive the flag-raising ceremony had been inspired by David, who respects and reveres the memory of Walter as much as Mary’s and Walter’s children.

“It was David’s idea,” one of the guests whispered to me as the flag was being attached to the pole. Walter’s Marine Corp flag flies beneath the American flag. The flagpole rests in a flower bed at the crest of a gentle slope, leading away from azalea beds down to the lake.

As the flag went up to the words of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Marine Corps hymn I knew these are the kinds of people you want as friends, the ones who defend their friends, their families and their country. I said God bless Walter McDonald and God bless all those gathered here.

As I drove towards home I thought about the America we have today, about the hate speeches I hear on radio and television and read in some publications. Our land has become home to too many people who hate America, its flag and its values.

Thankfully, I know in my heart that those who reject the blessings of a nation that has been a beacon for liberty and freedom and a caregiver to the world will never succeed. That’s because there are people among us like David and Mary Montani, their extended families and a lot of neighbors and friends.

We may be small in number but we are filled with the goodness we inherited from those who went before us. We will not let the haters and troublemakers carry the day.

David and Mary are symbolic of the ones we are or the ones we aspire to be. They are a unique pair. They raised 16 children with different spouses, then turned to each other to console the losses of their spouses. They know their children and friends love them as much as they love their country, and that is all that really matters.

I was glad I was invited to the flag ceremony. We all need a special occasion now and then to keep alive the remembrances of all that went before, all that now keeps us going, and all the promises that we leave as our inheritance to a great and wonderful nation.

Abraham Lincoln, fighting to preserve the union during the Civil War, spoke of the dangers of a nation divided. He said America was America for a special reason, and called our nation mankind’s last great hope to preserve the twin dignities of liberty and freedom. I carried that thought away from the flag ceremony.


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