DUNN — During a special flag ceremony at Plain View Elementary School, first-grader Elijah Torres had his name drawn from a bowl to accept Old Glory from a soldier.
A moment later, his dad’s arms were wrapped around him. Elijah knew he was coming home for Christmas, but David Torres arrived a little sooner than expected. Torres, a Chief Warrant Officer 3 in the U.S. Army, hugged his son as he smiled. It’s been more than a year since they’ve held each other.
The Fayetteville native has many years of service as a Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot and recently finished a 10-month tour in Afghanistan. Next year will mark his 20th year of service. He’s currently serving with the 1st Battalion, 52 Aviation Regiment, at Fort Wainwright in Alaska and previously served at Fort Bragg. Through the years, he’s spent several years away from his family. He expressed the challenge such as only spending about a year and a half worth of time with his 6-year-old child since he was born.
“We keep our relationship tight with FaceTime and video chat,” he said about making the connections. This includes reading together, by purchasing two books so they can read together when they’re far away from each other.
Students in Elijah’s class wrote David letters. While deployed, David wore an American flag under his vest, which he presented Tuesday to show his gratitude. Other members of the family joined him on the stage along with school officials such as Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy.
“I feel really excited,” Elijah said while sitting next to his father.
Alexis Torres was also filled with excitement to have her husband home for the holidays. She also stressed her beliefs about having reverence for the flag, its meaning and how some people take it for granted. Torres also tied in the message with the spirit of Christmas.
“Let’s cherish what we have and live in the present,” Alexis said. “It’s not perfect, but we live in a great country and I’m so grateful that we’re able to share this with everybody to show the support and love that we’ve been given from the Sampson County community, the Dunn community and Fayetteville. It’s been awesome.”
At a young age, Elijah’s parents don’t want him to understand the concept of fighting wars yet. To help him comprehend why he’s far away from home, they decided to use Transformers toys and movies, which featured soldiers. Elijah received a picture, with soldiers in front of a helicopter. The young boy was told that the picture was from Optimus Prime and other science fiction characters from the franchise.
“Somehow Bumblebee came and photobombed the picture,” Alexis said with a smile. “He’s super stoked and he was like ‘they really did look after my dad.’”
Elijah’s father made him dog tags with the characters and gave him a watch to make him feel like a member of the team, through their communications.
Principal Nicole Peterson said the flag will be displayed in the front office, inside a glass case. She said the Torres family is very involved in the school and is a great asset to the community. Peterson also had many good things to say about Elijah.
“He got to see his dad in the first time in over a year,” Peterson said. “I’m just glad to be able to take part in that and the special moment.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.