An e-mail written in tribute to the passing of a humble World War II veteran has gone viral, spurring a slew of memorial pages on Facebook and other social media sites, including a flurry of Twitter tweets and calls for a special online memorial day Monday.
Darrell "Shifty" Powers died June 17 without fanfare or much attention beyond the family and friends who gathered for his funeral.
Immortalized in the pages of Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers" and the subsequent mini-series, Powers jumped into Normandy with the 101st Airborne Division and fought through some of the grittiest battles of World War II. His nickname came from the basketball courts, his family says, not from running moonshine, as one of his battle buddies liked to joke.
He was buried quietly near his hometown in rural Virginia. He was 86 and had spent many of his last years visiting troops and faithfully attending reunions with his dwindling band of "Easy Company" brothers.
Overwhelmed by all the attention lavished on Michael Jackson, Mark Pfeifer sat down July 7 and wrote an e-mail to about a half-dozen friends in praise of Powers and lamenting the dearth of homage paid to passing heroes.
Pfeifer wrote about meeting Powers boarding a flight out Philadelphia a few years ago. He tried to give the veteran his first class seat, but Powers said, "No, son, you enjoy that seat. Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and still care is enough to make an old man very happy," Pfeifer wrote. "His eyes were filling up as he said it. And mine are brimming up now as I write this."
He was saddened to hear of Powers' death, but even more so that it received so little attention.
"There was no parade. No big event in Staples Center. No wall-to-wall, back-to-back, 24/7 news coverage. No weeping fans on television. And that's not right," Pfeifer wrote. "Let's give Shifty his own Memorial Service, online, in our own quiet way."
The blogosphere has responded.
By July 20, there were no fewer than nine memorial pages on Facebook, the biggest garnering more than 1,100 fans.
"Shifty Powers puts a face and a story behind a great hero of this country. Our heroes are not the Hollywood elite or the politicians or the media's darling of the moment," wrote one member of "Darrell ‘Shifty' Powers Memorial" posted on the group's wall.
"I'm wondering how the world could bleed for Michael Jackson for days on end and miss the passing of Shifty Powers," wrote a soldier in Afghanistan in his blog, "Afghan Quest."
"One of these two men demonstrated incredible courage and laid his life on the line for his friends and his country. The other was a rich entertainer with a penchant for plastic surgery. Guess which one passed with almost no fanfare?"
Dozens of Twitter postings have emerged as well, with several calling for a special "Shifty Memorial Monday" with supporters using a special "hashtag" identifier "#shiftypowers" on all their posts July 20.
"It's amazing," Powers' daughter Margo Johnson told Military Times from her home in Bristol, Va.
"He'd be very surprised about all this. He'd probably say everyone is making too much of a fuss, but that's just the way he was, very humble."
She said she remembered her dad talking about meeting Pfeifer on the flight, but never knew his name until she got Pfeifer's e-mail. "It was wonderful that he would take the time to do that."
Like many e-mail pass-alongs, versions of Pfeifer's note are already making the rounds attributed to Chuck Yeager and others.
"It almost sounded too good to be true, like those fake stories that make the rounds on the Internet," said Margo's husband, Seldon. "But we knew it was the real deal because Shifty had been so touched by his gesture."
As for Pfeifer, he's just glad Powers is getting his due.
"I had no idea that it would take off the way it did," Pfeifer told Military Times. "I thought I was sending it to a bunch of military-minded friends, maybe they'd send it to another 100 people or so. When I started hearing that it was going all over the Internet, and taking on a life of its own, it gave me hope. It was so good to know that there are so many people left who would respond to the story about Shifty that way."