Ohio veteran Joe Burdick’s love for the U.S. flag is evident in his creations
cleveland.com July 1, 2022
SEVEN HILLS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Joe Burdick makes no apology for his love of the Stars and Stripes. He fought for the flag. And now, as a veteran of the U.S. Navy, he uses that love and devotion to create art pieces with the hope that those who see them will realize that “patriotism” is not a dirty word.
The Lakewood, Ohio native enlisted in the U.S. Navy after seeing the original “Top Gun” movie in 1986, and was soon loading bombs and missiles on F/A-18 Hornets aboard an aircraft carrier. He later served in the Gulf War.
Burdick takes great pride in that service to his country – so much so it has spurred a business and philanthropic effort called Burdick’s Flags – all centered on creating unique wooden American flags.
“I’m just a veteran trying to do good things, that’s all,” he said, humbly, when asked why he does it.
Burdick says he stumbled into the flagmaking business.
“When I got out of the service, I thought I could do anything,” he says. “I had a top-secret security clearance and could work on airplanes. Instead, I bounced around from job to job for a while before landing in new-home construction, but found that working with my hands wasn’t my strong suit.”
Burdick tried to re-enlist in the Navy after 9/11 but was rejected because of his age and medical issues. Around the same time, he happened upon a small wooden flag in a craft store and hit upon the idea of supporting troops in action in Afghanistan and Iraq by creating patriotic gifts for veterans and first responders.
He watched YouTube videos for ideas on how to construct them and bought some inexpensive tools to get started. Soon, he was on a roll. As more and more people saw Burdick’s flag creations, he started getting requests to buy them or give them to charities. By 2014, he was selling them on the side.
Laid off from his full-time job in 2018, Burdick saw an opportunity to commit to making his flags a full-time business. Four days later, he received his first order from the Cleveland Browns for 40 flags to be used as Christmas gifts for the team’s corporate sponsors.
His flags – made by hand in a small workshop at his home in Seven Hills — now hang in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., as well as in the homes of several celebrities, politicians and sports figures. More importantly to Burdick, they hang in the homes of fellow veterans and first responders.
Creating patriotic keepsakes with love and respect
Burdick’s flags are made from several pieces of wood – each stripe cut to size. The red stripes and the blue field for the stars are stained, while “white” stripes are left natural. The entire flag is torched to enhance the imperfections of the wood. The finished art piece is held together with about 75 screws. The stars are hand-carved into the wood. Each flag is covered in three coats of polyurethane.
Burdick uses three grinders and “a lot of sanding” to create the illusion the flag is waving in the breeze. His hands go numb during the process, but he calls each flag a “labor of love.”
“Our flag has seen a lot of good and bad and it is still there,” he said. “It still represents everything that is good about our country. I want them to look like it’s has been through a lot. Because our country has been through a lot. Our flag has seen a lot — which is why I don’t use white stain on the stripes that are supposed to be white, so they will look weathered and look like it has been through a lot.
“It took me a long time to perfect the look of my flags, and it is symbolic,” he explained. “Our flag is about everything that is good in our country, but it is not perfect, so I want my flags to show all of the imperfections. I make them to be imperfectly perfect, just like each one of us. Just like our country.”
Each flag takes an average of one week to produce. But Burdick doesn’t work on just one flag at a time. For each flag ordered, he creates a second one, which he gifts to a veteran, or a local fire or police department, or donates it to a charity fundraiser.
Why do it?
The day following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Burdick packed up one of his finished pieces and shipped it to the Capitol police with a note that the rioters who stormed the legislative chambers were not representative of all Americans and that much of our nation appreciated the work the officers did to protect democracy.
Weeks later, Burdick received a thank you note from Gladys Sicknic, the mother of fallen Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick, who died in the attack.
“Cards and letters from recipients of my flags validate why I do what I do,” says Burdick.
“That note from Mrs. Sicknick brought me to tears. It meant the world to me that the Capitol police would give it to her. While I like getting paid for my flags, it is when I get the card or the letter from a family that makes me happy,” he said.
While he tries to never say “no” to a charity requesting he donate a flag for a fundraiser, sometimes it is impossible to satisfy every request. The requests that always gets a “yes” are ones for veterans or fallen first responders. Burdick donates an average of five flags a month.
What’s the message behind Burdick’s work?
“I want people to know that our flag represents everything to me and patriotism is not a dirty word.,” he says. “It’s okay to love our country. I definitely hope they come to understand our flag, and our anthem means so much to so many people. Hundreds of thousands have fought, and died, and sacrificed, so much for our country – we are not a perfect nation, but we just need to be better.”
Burdick carves “Philippians 3:12″ in the corner of each flag.
“Basically that verse talks about how we are not perfect, but in God’s eyes we are all going to be OK,” he said of the Gospel passage. “I always hope someone will be inspired to look it up and learn about things they might not really know about.
“My legacy – first and foremost – are my kids, Miranda and Joey Jr. – but my flags are meant to last and they will be my other legacy. As long as my hands allow it, I will keep making them. It’s hard on my body. but I will keep going because through my flags I am still serving.”
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