Everything was going fine for Andrew Pawelczyk and his fellow band members at Eisenhower Junior High School in Darien, Ill., when they opened their year-end concert in May with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Then with a clash of the Andrew’s hand cymbals, there was a crash, as the leather strap on Andrew’s right hand broke and sent the instrument tumbling to the ground.
After a few uncomfortable moments — and some giggles from fellow band members — 13-year-old Andrew suddenly turned to his left and saluted the American flag for the rest of the song.
“I was just shocked,” Andrew said. “I thought in my head, ‘Should I run and get another one?’ I decided to salute the flag.”
The eighth-grader’s reaction to the awkward moment has made him an unlikely Internet sensation and caused the short video clip to go viral with millions of YouTube views.
“I was thrilled with the choice that he made,” said his mother, Heidi Pawelczyk. “As a parent, we were nervous. We were worried that he would do something silly. He just kind of took it in stride. These things happen.”
Pawelczyk said her son’s reaction reflected his poise, but it was also instinctive. With several family members who served in the military, Pawelczyk said Andrew was taught patriotism from an early age.
“He has a lot of respect for what these people went through and what they did for the country,” Pawelczyk said. “He fell back to what felt right and what felt natural to him, which was to salute the flag.”
The easy-going Andrew seems as unfazed by the media attention as he was when the cymbal fell to the ground.
“I feel pretty good about what I did because all of these veterans have contacted me to say thanks for saluting the flag,” Andrew said.
Now that’s he’s finished middle school, he practices daily on his drum set in an upstairs bedroom, preparing to perform in the marching band at Downers Grove South High School.
Pawelczyk said that she was amazed at the growing reaction to her son’s outside-the-box move and attributes the response to a desire to see something uplifting.
“I had no idea that it would touch so many people,” Pawelczyk said. “They want to know that there are still young people who respect our flag and our country. You never know how one small act can affect people. I think he’s made a difference.”