He stands tall in front of his garage, sporting a black collared shirt embroidered with Burdick Custom Flags on the breast and a grin on his face. The propped-open door displays a workspace filled with piles of wood, works in progress and photos of Jenny McCarthy, Joe Thomas and other celebrities posing with the hand-painted, wooden American flag wall decorations that he builds there.
“I’m proud of these things, so I take my time with them,” he says. “I served for this flag and making these just feels like a natural extension of my service. I’m unapologetically patriotic.” Burdick joined the Navy at 19 years old. He served eight years, including his time in the reserves, as an aviation ordnanceman during Desert Storm.
“They sat us down and asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ As part of the Top Gun generation, I thought, Bombs! I want to load bombs!” he says.
Burdick trained in Tennessee for about 10 weeks. Soon, he was loading bombs onto F-18 combat jets at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California. He spent time on the USS Constellation, the last sail-only warship designed by the Navy, and aircraft carrier USS Independence.
“It was such a physically demanding job,” he says. “I loved every minute of it.”
He also earned a fine arts degree during his service. When he got home, he didn’t know how to use his unique skill set, so he tended bar and worked odd jobs for a decade. Then, he worked in construction for 20 years — until he got laid off from his new home construction management job in 2018. “Most people think about coming back to civilian life when they pick out their jobs. I didn’t,” he says. “There’s not much use for a bomb loader in everyday life.”
Then, about four years ago, he saw a wooden version of Old Glory in a Pat Catan’s craft store. The back was stamped Made in China. “I kept thinking, I could do that,” says Burdick. “So when I got cabin fever that winter I came home one day to see my wife had bought me a table saw.”
At first, he kept his flags basic and made them for friends. But word-of-mouth and more time after being laid off helped the business go legit last year. Custom designs, including special decals or miniature axes that honor specific military branches or firemen, expanded his offerings. More recent projects have placed the stars and stripes on different states and shapes such as Marvel’s The Punisher skull. Last year, orange and brown flags were given as gifts to more than 40 of the Browns’ corporate sponsors.
Most of the pine and oak comes from Brecksville’s Larson Lumber, but he snags scrap wood and spare pallets when he can. He runs the wood through a plainer, which gives them a straighter edge and then cuts them to size, typically 3-by-3 feet. Once everything fits together, he glues the pieces into place and starts painting — typically red, white and blue. He even hand-carves each star on every flag.
Last year, he received more than 300 orders. He tries to donate one flag for every two to three he sells. When his neighbor was promoted within the Cleveland Police Department last year, Burdick surprised him with a blue, white and black flag.
“He had bought some new furniture or something and I saw a [wooden] pallet sitting in his yard,” Burdick laughs. “So I ran over, grabbed the pallet and made it into a flag as a congratulations gift and just to thank him for his service.”
He’s also donated numerous flags to police and fire departments, including Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams and the New York Fire Department station located directly across from the Sept. 11 memorial.
“My flags are just like me and like us as a country,” he says. “They’re flawed and they aren’t perfect, but they’re still beautiful.”
8:00 AM EST
July 2, 2019