A simple, spontaneous gesture — a Norman Rockwell moment captured in a cellphone photo — has uncorked an outpouring of praise and patriotism across social media: Two small boys place their hands over their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance as the American flag is raised at their town’s fire station in rural North Carolina.
“I think people are just hungry for this kind of image,” said Alice Butler, mayor of Roseboro, North Carolina, where the photo was snapped Friday. “What’s taken hold with everybody is the innocence and the genuineness.
“For them to see a flag going up in the air and stop what they’re doing to recite the Pledge, there is nothing more genuine than that, just like it was a reflex.”
The boys — Derrick Ingram, 6, and his 8-year-old cousin Thomas Jones — had stopped riding their hoverboard and scooter to render their respect outside the fire station, just down the street from the elementary school where they recite the Pledge every day. On Friday, they took the initiative on their own.
“I just thought it was the neatest thing,” said Bobby Herring, the fire station chaplain who took the photo.
Mr. Herring said he had just returned Friday afternoon from preaching at a funeral in Roseboro, a town of 1,000 residents in Sampson County about 65 miles south of the capital, Raleigh.
An EMS worker had collapsed and died on duty due to complications from an illness, and the station house was flying at half-staff, the chaplain said. So he texted fire Chief Lee Coleman to get approval to raise the flag.
“I was raising the flag and just out of the corner of my eyes, there they were — standing still, tall, and pledging allegiance,” Mr. Herring said.
At first, he didn’t even consider posting the image on social media. But he sent it to Chief Coleman, who posted the photo on Facebook after securing permission from the boys’ mothers.
Chief Coleman teaches at nearby Clinton High School, which has rules against excessive cellphone use on campus. He said he had set his phone aside as he taught classes that afternoon.
“Within a couple hours, someone called me and said, ‘Have you looked at your Facebook page?’ ” he said.
He checked and saw that the patriotic image already had been shared nearly 400 times. By night time, the number had mushroomed. By Monday, reporters were calling and comments were coming from all over the country, Chief Coleman said.
By Wednesday afternoon, the photo had been shared nearly 10,000 times on Facebook and had received more than 1,000 comments.
“Thank you to the one that taught them respect of our flag,” wrote Gail Scronce. “Sweet picture, training them right.”
“Good ole Sampson County,” wrote Renee Butler Edge. “[S]till raising those kids right! Makes my heart sing as happy tears fill my eyes.”
On Tuesday night, the town council honored the boys at its regular meeting.
Journey Pearson, Derrick’s mother, told a local television station that tears came to her eyes when she first saw the photograph.
“I was at work crying and showing everybody my phone,” Ms. Pearson told CBS 17 News in Raleigh.
Chief Coleman said the station house keeps the coldest drinking fountain in the area, so curious kids often peek in at the fire engines — something he encourages.
“We’ve noticed a downturn in volunteering,” said the fire chief, who put an advertisement on the station’s Facebook page noting the need for volunteers. “What I’m hoping is this sheds a light on the need for volunteers not only across North Carolina but the U.S.”
But he — like the chaplain who took the photo — said all the praise belongs to the boys for their impromptu decision to honor the flag.
“They have a good understanding and respect, which will help them later on in life,” Chief Coleman said.
• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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