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World War II hero receives an overdue medal

Charles Burrows beamed with joy as he walked erectly into the dining room of the Red Cedar Canyon Assisted Living facility last month.

The 95-year-old, dressed sharply in a cardigan sweater and slacks, looked about marveling at the group assembled to pay him honor.

It included fellow residents and staff of the Hudson retirement home, his sons Steve and Bill, a Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard, the press, and U.S. Congressman Sean Duffy and members of his staff.

They were all there to witness the congressman present Capt. Burrows with a long-overdue Navy Commendation Medal for sustained acts of heroism and meritorious service while serving aboard the USS Tennessee battleship in World War II.

Burrows was born and raised in south Minneapolis. Following high school, he served in the Civilian Conservations Corps and then in 1939 enlisted in the Naval ROTC program at the University of Minnesota.

After receiving his degree, he was assigned to the USS Tennessee in December 1942 and served aboard the battleship for the next three years.

Burrows was a secondary battery officer in charge of the 5-inch anti-aircraft guns. He also was an officer of the deck underway in formation.

He participated in 14 major operations against the Japanese in the South Pacific, including the Battle of Surigao Strait, the last battleship vs. battleship conflict that has occurred to this day.

Burrows’ service climaxed in the Saipan and Okinawa campaigns when the USS Tennessee came under continual attack from Kamikaze pilots and enemy ships.

“Capt. Burrows, you have made your family proud. You’ve made your community proud. You have made your country proud,” Congressman Duffy said in presenting him with the medal. “So on behalf of a grateful nation but also a grateful generation whose very freedom and liberty was preserved by your generation -- it is my honor to present to you the Navy Commendation Medal today.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Duffy added as the audience broke into applause.

Gary Solomonson, sales and marketing director for Grand Living Management, the company that owns and operates Red Cedar Assisted Living, said the subject of Burrows’ eligibility for the medal came up at a veterans’ breakfast at the facility a number of months ago.

Congressman Duffy’s office was contacted and worked to get Burrows the honor he was due.

Burrows continued his service in the Naval Reserve after the war, where he rose to the rank of captain.

In civilian life, he worked for the Minnesota Conservation Department, which later became the Department of Natural Resources.

He was the director of game and fish for the DNR when he retired in 1980.

“He was a pretty intelligent guy in his day. He really knew a lot and was very well accomplished,” said his son Steve, who lives near Kinnickinnic State Park.

His son Bill is a resident of Amery.

Burrows wrote a memoir of his World War II experiences. It includes a letter from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the renowned commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during the war, in which he praises Burrows for his heroism in battle.