G.I. Joe embodies the heroes of the day

Commendable: As a boy, Charles Bury Jr. says action figures helped him learn his values. Today, the man's life could teach values to other boys. Toymaker Hasbro thinks so and made Bury its contest winner.

November 10, 1999|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

The message comes in hard and fast, like a burst from an M-16: G.I. Joe for you on Line 1.

He's calling from his hotel in midtown Manhattan, where he's been sight-seeing with his family and trying not to get killed by wild-driving New York cabbies.

"It's our first time in New York ... that's all we've been doing, riding in cabs," G.I. Joe chuckles. "Never thought you could get a vehicle that size in a two-foot space like they do."

Actually, the guy on the phone is Charles Bury Jr., 35, a Baltimore County cop who lives in Catonsville. But he's also, on this sparkling afternoon in the Big Apple's glass-and-concrete canyons, a real-life G.I. Joe, or at least the national grand prize winner of the Hasbro toy company's "The Search for the Real-Life Spirit of G.I. Joe" contest.

With his wife, Cheryl Lynn, and his 9-year-old son, Charles Christopher, at his side at the famed FAO Schwarz toy emporium yesterday morning, Bury was awarded his grand prize: a G.I. Joe action figure sculpted in his likeness, as well as a 35th anniversary edition Ford Mustang.

Actually, it had been Cheryl Lynn Bury, a secretary for the Baltimore City Police Department, who had entered her husband, a genuine hero (more on that later) in the contest.

Weeks earlier, she had composed a short essay (in the obligatory 100 words or less) explaining why Charlie, as the contest literature put it, "embodies the G.I. Joe spirit of honor, courage, respect, service and, of course, good fun."

"He has calmed the frightened, soothed the sick, stolen a heart (mine) and is ready to defend his country," she wrote glowingly.

Late yesterday afternoon, as he prepared to watch a feature about his award on the 6 o'clock news in his hotel room, Charlie Bury sounded proud, but also a bit dazed, by all the hoopla.

"It's very flattering, very touching ... [but] I never expected to win," he said quietly. "I thought I had a better chance of getting hit by a meteorite.

"But, it's funny -- I basically grew up with G.I. Joe. I got my first one in 1969, a talking astronaut. It sounds corny, but that's how I learned my values.

"See, when G.I. Joe first came out, the first four figures portrayed Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine [servicemen] from World War II. And my dad had told me: Those are the real heroes. Those are the people who had saved our way of life.' "

But Charlie Bury, an 18-year member of the National Guard (Alpha Company, 2nd/115th Infantry, 28th Division) is a hero in his own right, too.

He's won two Purple Heart awards from the Baltimore County Police Department. The first one came after his participation in a fire rescue in a high-rise building in Towson some 10 years ago. The second one came as a result of circumstances that were seemingly more mundane, but proved, ultimately, to be no less frightening.

That occurred when Bury was called to the Catonsville courthouse a few years ago to arrest three brothers who were causing a disturbance. In a melee that developed, the wild-eyed brothers tried to pull Bury's weapon from his service holster, which made for some dramatic moments until the brothers were subdued with the help of other officers.

Bury was also credited with saving two lives in a pair of separate incidents. In one, he performed CPR on a woman in a van in Towson who had overdosed on drugs and was comatose. In another, he happened to be on the scene in Lansdowne when a 6-year-old girl was struck in the face by a moving car's mirror, which shattered the bone structure of her face.

"She was blue when I got to her," Bury recalls of that horrible accident. But he again performed CPR and was able to get her breathing again by the time the paramedics arrived.

For all of this, and because of a wife who believed in him and wrote movingly and convincingly of his everyday life as a Baltimore County cop, Charlie Bury beat out 800 other entrants (including a man who survived ejecting from a burning plane in the Persian Gulf War) to become what Hasbro calls the living embodiment of G.I. Joe.

Tomorrow, he and his family will get to ride his glittering new Mustang in New York City's Veteran's Day Parade.

As for the G.I. Joe action figure sculpted in his likeness, it will doubtless occupy a prominent place in his house, though you probably shouldn't expect to see it under a spotlight. A true hero like Charlie Bury has more class than that.

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