By Matt Kane
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (1954)
Baptist Minister Francis Bellamy devised what has become the current and official form of the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, further pushing forward an early work by Captain George T. Balch, a Civil War veteran, who promoted to children loyalty to the United States.
For eight years from 1956 to 1964 Charlie Burns showed his loyalty to his country while enlisted in the Army National Guard. Today he is an 81-year-old father of seven sons, grandfather of 18, and great-grandfather of five. Those children and grandchildren of Burns and his wife of 60 years, Doris, grew up reciting Bellamy’s Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school. These days, when the weather permits, Burns, himself, still honors the flag with his hand on his heart, under significantly different circumstances.
The battle vehicle these days during the warm months is a recognizable green, that of his John Deere riding lawn mower. The battlefield are he and his neighbors’ plush green lawns behind their neighborhood of duplexes off Highway 25 in Watertown.
“Every time I mow there’s a really nice flag pole down here, you see I come up to it and stop and take my hat off, and say an Our Father and a Hail Mary and a Glory Be and a ‘Thank you, Jesus, for a wonderful country we live in, and thank you for the freedom we have,’” he explained. “I put my cap back on and I go on mowing.”
Burns mows close to an acre-and-a-half of grass on the out-lots owned by his son. His only stop comes about 25 feet from that flag pole, where the stars and stripes blow freely.
“This one here is so special. It’s just right there,” he said.
Burns removes his hat, says his line of prayers and recites the Pledge of Allegiance to himself. He had no idea someone was watching.
“I’ve watched him mow the lawn in the backyard for two years now and never saw his patriotism until the foliage was cut down around the pond,” said Mary Kunkel, who lives two doors down from the Burnses, and noticed the routine this past October.
Not knowing what exactly Burns was doing, but curious, she asked.
“I asked him about his pause at the flag. He told me that every time he mows, he stops at the flag, says the Pledge of Allegiance and ends his stance with a prayer,” she said. “This made me tear up. I posted the photo I took of him on Facebook, including his name, and it received over 800 likes. God bless Charlie.”
“Likes” on Facebook seem to be the goal of this social-media world, but not for Burns. His honorable recognition of the flag in his backyard is all about the love for his country and it’s most recognizable symbol.
“I have a tremendous love for the flag. As Lee Greenwood said, ‘It stands for freedom.’ And it does,” said Burns. “I respect the flag a lot, and I like to [honor it] whenever I get a chance to, and thank the good lord for the country we live in.”
Burns joined the Army National Guard in 1956, just before his senior year of high school at Watertown. It was a time of peace in the country, falling between the United States’ involvement in Korea and Vietnam.
Vietnam did kick off during the latter stages of his service, but Burns was never called up for active duty.
Through that service, and having been a kid during the second World War, patriotism was always a big part of Burns’ life. Supporting one’s country was something people did, no questions asked.
“I was born in ‘38. I don’t have that great of a memory, but I remember some stuff from World War II. I was just a kid, but I can remember all the rationing and all the stuff people had to do, and all the scrap drives to collect metal. People were patriotic. They were selling war bonds, and people were buying them to support the war effort,” he explained. “I remember my aunts and uncles and my folks they loved this country. I don’t always see that today.
“There is a lot of patriotism, don’t get me wrong, but when I see someone burning the flag and desecrating the flag, I have a problem with that.”
Burns has a problem because he knows the American flag is so much more than just thread.
“The flag is cloth, but it’s what it stands for. When I see people burning the flag, I think about all these people who went and died in wars in the service of this country; they are burning their blood a second time,” he explained. “That’s what the flag stands for the freedom they all fought for, that we have today.”
Burns grew up in Hollywood Township on the family farm, and lived in Delano for nine years before moving back to the Watertown area, and, finally, to the townhome he now shares with Doris. He worked as a machinist for 39 years at Van Dale Inc. in Long Lake.
In all that time, his love for the flag and his country never waned. As Lee Greenwood says, Burns is ‘Proud to be an American.’