For Memorial Day: A Father and His Son's Pickup Truck

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

A couple of years ago on Memorial Day, songwriter Connie Harrington was driving her car, listening to NPR on the radio. On the air, Paul Monti was talking about his son Sgt. Jared Monti, who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously. Sgt. Monti, 30, was killed in battle in Afghanistan while trying to save the life of one of the men under his command, the third time in that firefight that he’d responded to calls for help. As the father described how he coped with his grief, Harrington pulled over and jotted down notes, particularly touched by the fact that Paul Monti still drives Jared’s 2001 Dodge pickup truck as both a memorial to his son and as a salve to that grief. It’s a four-wheel drive Ram 1500, a little beaten up, embellished with decals for the 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne divisions, a Go Army sticker and an American flag.

for memorial day a father and his sons pickup truck

“What can I tell you? It’s him. It’s got his DNA all over it. I love driving it because it reminds me of him, though I don’t need the truck to remind me of him. I think about him every hour of every day.”

When she got home in Nashville, Harrington started working on a song, first by herself and then with two co-writers, Jessi Alexander and Jimmy Yeary. The result, I Drive Your Truck, was recorded by country singer Lee Brice. Last month the song went to #1 on Billboard’s C&W chart and so far Brice’s video of the tune on YouTube has been viewed over 5 million times (though Jared’s pickup is a Dodge, Brice’s video uses an older Ford F-100). I’ve always regarded the stories of Shelby Mustangs left in barns by young men off to Vietnam, never to return, as the stuff of legends, but I suppose that there have been such genuinely true stories since young men have driven cars before going off to war, so the song rings true. Some of those men came home alive, some didn’t. Somewhere there’s bound to be a 1916 Model T left behind by one of Gen. Pershing’s doughboys, hopefully being driven by someone who knows its story, not abandoned in a barn with its owner forgotten.

After the song was released and started getting radio airplay, Paul Monti was contacted on Facebook by the mother of another soldier killed in the same Afghanistan battle as his son. She too was driving her fallen son’s pickup truck and urged him to listen to I Drive Your Truck. The song is written from the perspective of a surviving brother, not a father, so neither on them realized the song was really about Monti, his son Jared and that Ram 1500. Paul tried to listen to the song but overcome with tears he couldn’t make it all the way through.

In a more recent interview with Monti on NPR, the CMoH winner’s father said, “You know, I think it’s important for people to understand — or at least try to understand — what Gold Star parents go through. Your child is your future and when you lose your child you’ve lost your future, and I think one of the reasons so many Gold Star parents drive their children’s trucks is because they have to hold on. They just have to hold on.”

After some searching, Harrington was able to locate Monti. She told him that he and his son inspired the song and when the song hit #1 she invited him to Nashville to meet her and her co-writers and learn the genesis of I Drive Your Truck. While the truck, and now the song, no doubt help Monti deal with the death of his son, if you’ve ever had any contact with a parent who has lost a child you know that’s a pain that never completely goes away. In the case of Sgt. Jared Monti, though, his father has the comfort of knowing that his son was a good man who died the way he lived, helping others.

Paul Monti with his son Jared’s pickup truck. Photo: John Wilcox, Boston Herald

Sgt. Jared Monti, according to his father and others, was the kind of son most of us would like to have, altruistic to the literal end. It’s a cruel irony that the best of us will sacrifice themselves to save others. When he was killed in 2006, Jared Monti’s 16 man patrol came under fire from a superior force of approximately 50 Taliban fighters. Monti was the commanding officer of the patrol. During the firefight, one of his soldiers was wounded and out in the open. Monti was mortally wounded in his third attempt to recover his wounded comrade under what his Medal of Honor citation describes as “intense” and “relentless” enemy fire. The citation says that, “Staff Sergeant Monti’s selfless acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force.” What the citation doesn’t say is what we already know, he loved his truck. So does his dad.

Sergeant Monti’s full Congressional Medal of Honor citation is below as are the lyrics to I Drive Your Truck. If you follow that link, take a few moments to read some of the other citations and reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day. Since the start of World War Two, most Medals of Honor have been awarded posthumously. Sometimes, like Sgt. Monti, the awardees’ self-sacrifice earned them the medal. In other cases they gave their last full measure of devotion in subsequent action, not even related to the valorous behavior that earned them the Medal of Honor. Of course, most men who die in battle don’t get the Medal of Honor. That’s what war is like, it’s a risky proposition at best and heroes don’t fight for medals. On Memorial Day in America we honor the memory of Sgt. Jared Monti and the rest of those who have taken that risk so that we can enjoy our pickup trucks and other pursuits of our happiness. That’s not a glib comment. What could be more American than a pickup truck? Hell, even Toyota and Nissan build American pickups for Americans these days.

I don’t listen to much Country music and didn’t know about the song, so thanks to Lee Habeeb for writing so eloquently about it, Paul Monti, and his son Jared’s truck. The Monti family lives in Massachussets and there’s more about them, the song and Sgt. Monti’s pickup truck at the Boston Herald.

[ I was going to embed a video from the Boston Herald here but it autostarts with a 30 second advertisement and after the 3rd or 4th time it autostarted with an ad while I was editing this post, I decided that you’d rather just have direct link to the video and decide if you want to watch the ad or not]

If you have fond feelings for a father’s love for his son, for America, for its people and even for its pickup trucks, you’ll have a hard time getting through the story of Sgt. Jared Monti without tearing up. It’s a great story that resonates at a number of levels, so I’m a bit surprised that the folks at Chrysler haven’t seized the opportunity to generate a little feelgood patriotic buzz for the Ram brand, what with Chryslers being imported from Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy. Maybe they’re reluctant because of that Ford F-100 in Lee Brice’s music video. I’ll just point out to the Ram brand managers and marketing team that Mr. Monti’s memorial to his son is still used as a daily driver and though he clearly loves it as an artifact of his late son I’m sure that as a memorial it would last quite a bit longer if he had a new truck to use regularly instead. He’s already had to replace the engine. It probably wouldn’t hurt the Ram brand if they gave Mr. Monti a new 4X4 Ram 1500 truck to use as a daily driver so that he can preserve his son’s Ram the way it was when Jared drove it. While they’re at it, donating a similar truck to a American veterans service organization in memory of Sgt Monti would likewise be a nice patriotic move for the Auburn Hills based (and now Italian owned) company. If I was in a cynical mood, I’d even suggest to the folks at Ram that they should license the song and reshoot the music video as a commercial, using Mr. Monti and Jared’s truck instead of that F-100 (if Ford could turn a Mercury hot rod into a Ford pickup, Chrysler can turn a F-100 into a Ram). They could even tie it in to their military training and employment program, part of the Chrysler Academy. That was, as I said, if I was in a cynical mood, but right now, if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eye.

Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti

  • Date of Issue: 09/17/2009
  • Organization: U.S. Army, Headquarters Company, 10th Mountain Division

Citation: Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a team leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3d Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3d Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21, 2006. While Staff Sergeant Monti was leading a mission aimed at gathering intelligence and directing fire against the enemy, his 16-man patrol was attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Staff Sergeant Monti quickly directed his men to set up a defensive position behind a rock formation. He then called for indirect fire support, accurately targeting the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within 50 meters of his position. While still directing fire, Staff Sergeant Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank his patrol. Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one of his Soldiers was lying wounded in the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti twice attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade. Determined not to leave his Soldier, Staff Sergeant Monti made a third attempt to cross open terrain through intense enemy fire. On this final attempt, he was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his fellow Soldier. Staff Sergeant Monti’s selfless acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Staff Sergeant Monti’s immeasurable courage and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army.

“I Drive Your Truck”

by Connie Harrington, Jessi Alexander and Jimmy Yeary

Eighty-Nine Cents in the ash tray


Half empty bottle of Gatorade rolling in the floorboard


That dirty Braves cap on the dash


Dog tags hangin’ from the rear view


Old Skoal can, and cowboy boots and a Go Army Shirt folded in the back


This thing burns gas like crazy, but that’s alright


People got their ways of coping


Oh, and I’ve got mine

I drive your truck


I roll every window down


And I burn up


Every back road in this town


I find a field, I tear it up


Til all the pain’s a cloud of dust


Yeah, sometimes I drive your truck

I leave that radio playing


That same ole country station where ya left it


Yeah, man I crank it up


And you’d probably punch my arm right now


If you saw this tear rollin’ down on my face


Hey, man I’m tryin’ to be tough


And momma asked me this morning


If I’d been by your grave


But that flag and stone ain’t where I feel you anyway

I drive your truck


I roll every window down


And I burn up


Every back road in this town


I find a field, I tear it up


Til all the pain’s a cloud of dust


Yeah, sometimes I drive your truck

I’ve cussed, I’ve prayed, I’ve said goodbye


Shook my fist and asked God why


These days when I’m missing you this much

I drive your truck


I roll every window down


And I burn up


Every back road in this town


I find a field, I tear it up


Til all the pain’s a cloud of dust


Yeah, sometimes, brother sometimes

I drive your truck


I drive your truck


I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind


I drive your truck

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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3 of 22 comments
  • -Nate -Nate on May 28, 2013

    A Parent outliving a Child for any reason , is a travesty . I miss all those I knew who didn't come home or who have gone not to return . -Nate

  • Wstarvingteacher Wstarvingteacher on May 28, 2013

    Never waste an opportunity to turn a touching moment into a political diatribe. Concur that haters just have to hate. While you are waxing eloquently with your r/l wing of choice talking points I should point out that politicians have been scumbags for a long time. Clinton was the first president of my life to have not been involved in WW2. I think the difference now is that none of those in power have ever put it all on the line. I can see the reasons not to do it this way but somehow think that all presidents should have been in harms way before they are empowered to send others there. Nice story Ronnie. Felt pretty good about it until the commentariat started hacking it up.

    • CamryStang CamryStang on May 29, 2013

      "Never waste an opportunity to turn a touching moment into a political diatribe." I think you illustrated your own point there

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.
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