On Friday, Warren Bushway will hoist the U.S. flag for July 4th — just as he's done nearly every morning for more than 60 years.
Warren Bushway sets his alarm for 5:30 a.m., but he rarely needs the wake-up call.
“I was up at 4:57 this morning,” he said. “It’s always been this way.”
And almost always, at least as long as Bushway can remember, he has awakened in the early-morning light to fulfill a ritual that has become a community expectation.
At 93½ (he cherishes that half) Bushway, or “Bud” as everyone calls him, slides open the wood door of his kitchen closet, reaches up to the top shelf and pulls down his 4- by 6-foot U.S. flag. Cradling it in his left arm, he reaches with his right for his cane (“my third leg,” he jokes). Hunched over, but moving at an impressive clip, he heads out the door, down a ramp and toward a 25-foot flagpole in his front yard.
Squinting in the sun, he tugs on the rope to assure it’s taut, then clips on the flag as cars, buses and bicyclists whoosh past on his busy St. Louis Park street. Ten tugs and the Red, White and Blue is flying.
“That’s it,” said Bushway, wearing his signature short-sleeved plaid shirt, dark slacks and suspenders, the latter a necessity to accommodate a feeding tube in his stomach.
He turns toward his immaculately manicured lawn, which he proudly keeps up himself. “Thank you, Lord, for another day,” he says quietly, looking skyward. “I do appreciate it very, very much.”
“And, Bev, I am still thinking about you, as always. Love you. Love you. Love you.”
Bushway will return tonight, before sundown, to lower the flag. He will raise it again tomorrow.
“I get choked up when he does it,” said his daughter, Gayle Wilkins, of O’Fallon, Ill., who was in Minneapolis for a recent visit. She was reared in this house with her three younger siblings.
“I’ve watched him do this since I was 5 years old,” Wilkins said, “but every time, I almost cry.”
Bushway is apologetic when asked what inspired him to perform this patriotic act every day of the year, unless rain or snow prohibits it. He says he doesn’t know. “I’m no fanatic,” he said. “I just like flying the flag.”
His kids have another hunch.
Bushway, one of six children, grew up during the Great Depression, dropped out of school after ninth grade and found odd jobs, which led him to the San Francisco shipyards. At 22, he was drafted into the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Division, along with three of his brothers. Howard served in the Air Force, Harry in the Marines and Leroy on artillery duty in Asia.
“Thank goodness, we all came back,” Bushway said. He served for “two years, 11 months and five days,” including in the Battle of Peleliu in the Pacific Theater. He never was on the front lines, but was close enough to hear the shooting.
He keeps a laminated copy of his discharge papers in a kitchen drawer, dated Feb. 5, 1946. Shortly after he returned home, the flag-raising began, small flags at first, flying from a 2-foot pole near his doorstep.
He worked as a street foreman for the city of St. Louis Park for 30 years, the last three as superintendent. He retired in 1982.
He met Bev through his sister, Lorraine, who tried to discourage the relationship. “He’s always working,” she told Bev, “and, when he’s not, he’s fishing or hunting.”