Our Brother: The Story of A Young Manâ€™s Sacrifice
By Jean Miller, Josephine Ross, Meri Cox, and Susan Haney
Charles Francis Burton was born May 31, 1926 in Washington, D.C. Although his father and mother divorced in his first year, Charles was brought up in a warm, loving family atmosphere and was showered with affection from his mother, Elizabeth, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and his two older adoring sisters, Jean and Dorothy. Charles led a charmed life as he was not only physically attractive with fair hair, light complexion and brilliant blue eyes, but was a bright student and had an engaging personality. He was a popular kid and was extremely well liked by adults as well as his friends at school and in his neighborhood.
The family moved from Washington D.C. to Cheverly, Maryland in March, 1927. There were only twenty homes in Cheverly at that time but there were many children in the small community and a number of boys in the neighborhood became Charlesâ€™ lifelong companions. The boys were inseparable and biked for hours, played ball and also loved to compete at horseshoes.
In the summer of 1934, Charlesâ€™ mother married Joseph E. Singer. In 1935, Josephine Singer was born, followed by Mary in 1938. It was a full, bustling household.
Charles started school in 1932 at the age of six, when he enrolled at Cheverly-Tuxedo Elementary, which only had two classrooms for seven grades. He walked a mile to school each day with his two older sisters and never missed a day of school. He progressed well in school both academically and physically. In 1936 at age 10, Charles was accepted at St. Albans School for Boys, which is affiliated with the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. Charles received a partial scholarship because he was a member of the Cathedral Boys Choir. Charles thrived in this exceptional environment and even though he had to travel a long distance from Cheverly, Maryland, via public transportation, Charles again never missed a day of school.
While attending St. Albans, Charles participated in many sports programs, most notably wrestling and boxing. Although Charles was slight of build and height, he earned the nickname of â€œToughyâ€ because of his prowess in the wresting and boxing rings. We believe he was most proud of his accomplishments in the Golden Gloves boxing competition.
Always the one for excitement and adventure, Charles traveled with his Boy Scout troop to Mexico for the entire month of July 1941. This, of course, was a marvelous experience for him and brought back many treasures from his travels â€“ a multi-colored hand-made Indian blanket, a serape and sombrero, a hand-carved life-size wooden facemask and a leather chair. He entertained our family for hours with tales of his adventures.
At the age of 14, Charles was chosen by the renowned artist, Count de Rosen, to be a model for St. John the Apostle in the large mural that dominates the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea in the Washington National Cathedral. Our brother as St. John is easily recognized as he is depicted comforting the Virgin Mary. All of the models selected by Count de Rosen were students, instructors, and artisans connected with the Cathedral. Because Charles wanted to surprise his family, he never told any of them about his selection as a model. This created quite a problem because he allowed his hair to grow to shoulder length â€“ quite an unacceptable hairstyle for grown boys and men in the early 1940s. His two older sisters, Jean and Dorothy, teased him continually about his long tresses, until they finally decided to take matters into their own hands. Dot sat on Charles while Jean attempted to cut his hair to a respectable length. Despairing, Charles was forced to reveal his secret and begged them not to tell his mother. They pledged to keep his secret intact, and shared his joy when the fresco was finally unveiled to the public.