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As a Marine Corps reservist and pro baseball player, Rick Monday’s two paths led him to performing what many considered a heroic act for a split second in history—at a place you never would have expected it to happen.
This past week, which also marks Flag Day, has awakened memories of what Monday did on a sunny April afternoon in 1976. It also seems to also be prompting major buzz in Washington, too.
Outfielder Rick Monday of the Chicago Cubs dashes between two men in the Dodger Stadium Outfield in Los Angeles, in this April 25, 1976 photo, snatching an American flag the men were about to burn. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Herald Examiner, James Roark)
Monday—then a centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs--saved an American Flag from being burned on the field of Dodger Stadium by two fans trespassing on the field. It was at the height of the post-Watergate/Vietnam era that had our nation rethinking a lot of its heritage and confidence. Less than a year had passed since the last of Monday’s fellow U.S. Marines had clambered onto a rooftop helicopter in Saigon, ending a difficult period in American history.
And yet, as Monday snatched the flag off the turf, the crowd spontaneously burst into ovation and sang “God Bless America.” The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame recently recognized the actions taken by Monday when he saved the American Flag as 1 of 100 classic moments in the history of baseball.
"It was a dramatic day, and a day that made you proud to be in baseball," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said.
Now a LA Dodgers baseball broadcaster, Monday was also recently honored by the U.S. Senate with a resolution commemorating the 30th anniversary of that day. And more from Washington may be on the way. The Senate is due to vote later this month on a potentially controversial measure protecting the flag from similar acts.
"As I said back then, the flag represents all the rights and freedoms that we have in this country," Monday said. "If you desecrate the flag, you desecrate the efforts of all the people who fought and died to protect those rights and freedoms. I am pleased that the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to give me this honor and I trust that when the flag amendment comes to the floor for a vote within weeks that the Senate will overwhelmingly pass Sen. Joint Res. 12 to enable ‘we the people’ to restore protection to our glorious symbol of freedom."
The Letters of Thanks Keep Coming
Some of his proudest moments continue to occur. He’s had visits from his drill instructors during the six years he spent in the Marine Corps Reserve. There also are the letters that pour in almost every week thanking Monday for snatching Old Glory from the hands of those two protesters.
"I’m still getting letters," Monday says. "It is amazing." He also has letters from former Presidents Ford and Reagan.
The protesters, William Thomas, 36, and his 11-year-old son, were arrested and fined $60. Press attempts to locate the two have been unsuccessful.
And what happened to the photographer, James Roark, of the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, who shot the only photo of the incident? Roark, whose photo was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, lost his job, became a night cook in Portland and was beaten and killed outside a restaurant in 1995. He was 49.
And the tattered flag that was soaked with lighter fluid? It’s in Monday’s possession in a safe-deposit box, surviving the hurricanes near his Vero Beach, Fla., home. He was offered $1 million for the flag several years ago, he said, but rejected the overture.
"The flag is faded, and it’s somewhat tattered," Monday said. "It wasn’t like it was just bought off the shelf. It wasn’t in great shape from the start.
"But the flag is not for sale. What this flag represents, you can’t buy."