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March 26, 2014

KITCHELL: Burks a case for cutting through red tape

On the east wall of the main dining room at Logansport’s West Side Diner, there is a tribute to a customer who is well known in Logansport’s east end.

He is Charlie Burks, a retired federal agent, who often eats with his wife next to the wall.

The tribute is unusual in that incorporates a Norman Rockwell portrait of what discrimination in the Deep South was like in the 1950s and early 1960s when school desegregation was ordered by the courts. In that picture, a young African-American student is ushered to a new school by federal agents — people like Charlie.

In fact, Charlie was on a college campus in the South when it admitted its first African-American student. At a point when racial tensions in this country were arguably at their highest fever pitch, the calm, bespectacled Charlie was dispatched into a hotbed of hate to guarantee what we refer to in our “Pledge of Allegiance” as “liberty and justice for all.”

Charlie, now in his 90s, is remembered on a wall, but he has been forgotten by the same government he worked for decades ago. Charlie was a POW in World War II, captured behind German lines. He was wounded, but to this day, he has yet to receive a Purple Heart he paid for with his own blood over a half century ago.

It could — and should be argued that Charlie has paid forward for generations of Americans who can afford to take what he and other agents like him did for them. Many people like Charlie died either on foreign soil or in this country. Many like Charlie were willing to die for this cause we call freedom. Many like Charlie wouldn’t have become federal agents after being in World War II because they could claim justly that they already sacrificed years of their life for their country. Charlie gave more.

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