Photo of officer's act of patriotism goes viral

Ismael Perez By Ismael Perez

Nov. 10, 2017 at 9:42 p.m.
Updated Nov. 11, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Senior Police Officer Cody Balli poses for a portrait outside the Victoria Police Department.

Senior Police Officer Cody Balli poses for a portrait outside the Victoria Police Department.   Olivia Vanni for The Victoria Advocate

The American flag outside the Victoria County Courthouse was tattered and hanging from its red, white and blue threads the morning after being battered by hurricane force winds.

Looking through the pouring rain and 45-mph winds, Senior Police Officer Cody Balli noticed the flag flew off the pole. A fellow police officer informed him "Old Glory" was stuck on a tree.

The thought of the flag ending up in a ditch or down the sewer caused Balli to run across the street from the Victoria Office of Emergency Management building to rescue the flag.

"The wind just hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was like, 'Oh, boy, here we go,'" Balli, 33, said. "It was something that needed to be done. It wasn't about me; it was about what that flag represented and who had fought for it."

A photo of the Victoria police officer carrying the flag was captured through the lens of a news photographer's camera.

And the image - described by the police chief and the photographer as a selfless act of patriotic heroism on a nearly deserted Bridge Street - was seen throughout the country.

"One minute the photo got 10 likes, then 15, then it's 20, 100, 200, 300 ... it was cool to see," the officer said about the photo he shared on his Facebook page that currently has about 2,000 likes and 1,200 shares.

Tom Fox, senior staff photographer at the Dallas Morning News, said he was in Victoria along with a reporter to cover Harvey.

Fox said he was heading to his truck when he caught a glimpse of Balli struggling to get the flag from a branch.

By the time Fox picked up his camera, Balli was already running back with the flag and he shot the photo.

There's always the typical flag photo, but this one is rare, Fox said. He liked Balli's grip on the flag and how it was flowing from his muscular arm.

"It's very patriotic, and shows a symbol of man against nature," Fox said. "It's also a testament to the first responders and how they were reacting to the storm."

Chief J.J. Craig said he had a huge sense of pride and received a few texts from people in California letting him know they saw the photo.

"I was very proud that one of our officers was seen doing that," Craig said. "Oftentimes, in those kinds of situations, we don't get the real life view of officers. It really was a nice picture that represents his character and shows him doing what he thinks is right."

The chief said in his 36 years in law enforcement, he has been comfortable dealing with earthquakes, floods and riots, but he has never been in a hurricane before.

Craig said police officers were eager to go out and help after Harvey struck Victoria and did an outstanding job responding to it.

Police officers, along with the sheriff's office and the fire department, assessed property damage, responded to reports of looting, dealt with failing traffic signals, saved people who were trapped and cleared tree limbs.

The chief said the photo helped inspire officers, it made them proud and energized to help.

Although the photo made Balli's mother a bit upset after she instructed him to not do anything stupid during the storm, he said he just had to do it.

He said he comes from a big military and patriotic family and respect is one of his personal core values, and it's a core value of the police department as well.

"The photo boosted everyone and made them feel like we got this. That's what we kept on saying: 'We got this.'" Craig said. "Sharing that with our people was another graphic illustration and example that we were going to be OK. And, that couldn't have happened at a better time."


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