She lifts her lamp beside the golden dorr. Think of the embarrassment one night, if, when the lamp was supposed to come on, it, did not.

Or if the windows in the lamp became so covered with soot the of liberty could not shine. It gets pretty grubby in there.

Then there's the buildup of dust. One day, upset by this, Charlie DeLeo decided to attack. It took him four hours just to vacuum out her colossal left elbow. Then he could breathe free.

He's 33, and has worked in, at and atop the Statue of Liberty nine years.

Officially, his title is maintenance mechanic's helper, but he ditched that long ago. "Keeper of the Flame," he says. "I made it up and it spread like wildfire."

What that means is, in addition to cleaning up the refuse tourists leave behind on the grounds, and the mechanical repair work, he checks on Lady Liberty, making sure the bulbs are fin, keeping her clean.

He considers this an honor, perhaps, for he is religious, even his fate. In fact, it came to him because no one else was interested.

"When I first came here I used to sneak up to the torch," he says, "I loved the view and I loved the height . . . it's like being with God . . . . Then they said, 'Well, if you want it, you've got it.'

"Nobody else wanted the job . . . . They didn't have the love, the enthusiasm I had . . . and they didn't want the climb . . . . "

The climb is steep. Lady Liberty stands 3 stories above the harbor, and even with the elevator, it's a 16 story hike up to her torch, which i four stories higher than her crown.

The climb to the torch, by a steel ladder at a slight incline, is closed to the public, but Charlie DeLeo makes it daily.

he does not actually turn on the lights, that is done automatically. But he does inspect the 400-watt sodium vapor lamps, wash the 200 windowpanes and scrape the paint on the spiral stairs.

And every morning, before his job officially begins and whether his work take him there or not, he goes to the catwalk around the torch, his favorite place to meditate.

"It's like a chapel to me," he says.

Charlie DeLeo: a poor kid from the Lower East Side who joined the Marines a hawk and returned from Vietnam a dove; a man who never finished high school and has published, with a religious group, a volume of poems; a man who makes $18,000 a year working for the National Park Service, and has given away $20,000 in the last seven years to charity, much of it to the work of Mother Teresa.

But perhaps, since this is the time of thoughts of country, his time in the Marines is the place to start.

"I was always very patriotic, I always wanted to go into the service.

"Then, when I was 15, President Kennedy got assassinated. He was young, he was Catholic like me, and it really got to me.

"I said, "That's it. When I'm 17, I'm going in.' They made me a cook. I didn't want to be cook. I said, 'Hey, I'm here to fight.' Even as a cook, I almost got killed. I was at Da Nang when the VC lobbed in 150 mortars . . . three men were killed, 52 men were wounded . . . .

"I went in gung-ho," recalls Charlie DeLeo. "Even now, I think the communists are our enemy and we did the right thing . . . . But then, I got a full awareness of what the war was . . . .

"I was in the hospital in Da Nang . . . and that night they showed the 'Ten Commandments,' my all-time favorite movie, and I broke down . . . suddenly, killing the enemy wasn't all that important . . . .

"I just wanted the war to end . . . I felt, what difference was creed or religion? I felt we were all children of God . . . ."

He was discharged. He worked odd jobs: in a meat market, hauling sides of veal; as a bricklayer, good work but seasonal; in the Post Office, okay but not physical enough, so he quit.

Then one day, he took a ride to the Statue of Liberty. He has always loved the statue, always been awed by it, he says. When he got off the boat, he asked for a job, and signed on as a laborer. Eventually, they promoted him to mechanic's helper, then made him caretaker of the statue.

Oh, life is good. Charlie DeLeo falls in love with a park ranger, takes her to lunch on the torch though it's against the rules, takes her up 11 times. A few months later, she marries another man.

"Kind of broke my heart," says DeLeo, who, though it's been six years, carries a torch.

Still, there is retribution, of sorts. DeLeo had always known he was going to be a celebrity, always felt God had saved him during the war for a purpose, for his "desire to glorify my Creator and help humanity," and sure enough, one day, he achieved fame.

He helped it along, actually. A trip to the Daily News, with a request to publish one of his poems. No poems, thanks, says the News, but he's the one and only Keeper of the Flame? Off in a radio car with photographer they go.

Other write-ups follow, and when they seem slow, Charlie DeLeo helps them along.

"Get me in the newspaper, and I'll glorify you true," he prayed to God not so long ago. Shortly thereafter, someone called from the Los Angeles Times.

"The biggest thrill of my life," says Charlie.

Which raises the question, Charlie DeLeo, with your years here, do you know the poem?

He blushes.

"I can say the last four lines," he says. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The teeming refuse -- I always, blow that line -- The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, temptest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."