(4/30/2003) With patriotism at an all-time high, it's no surprise that this touching story of a plane full of people honoring an American soldier's ultimate sacrifice should be so popular. Unfortunately, in less than a month, it began demonstrating all the reasons not to forward chains like this one.
SAMPLE CHAIN LETTER TEXT
This email is from Andy Nelson, an employee with Doster Construction in Montgomery. It is very good!
I want to tell you of an experience I had last night flying home from Atlanta. The pilot came on the intercom and went through the usual announcements telling us that "we're just east of Montgomery cruising at 28,000 feet" and "you've picked a beautiful night for flying, just look at the gorgeous southern sunset out of the right side of the plane". He then, however, said this: "Please bear with me as I deviate from the script, but I want you all to know that simply by coincidence you have been granted both the privilege and honor of escorting the body of Army PFC Howard Johnson, Jr. home tonight. PFC Johnson was killed in Iraq defending the freedoms we all enjoy, and fighting to extend those freedoms to the people of Iraq. We are also accompanied by PFC Johnson's cousin, Marine Major Talley, who has been chosen by the family to escort PFC Johnson home. Semper Fi!"
The plane quickly became very quiet, but soon erupted in thunderous applause that lasted for several minutes. It was quite moving, to say the least. As I sat there thinking about what the pilot had said, and visualizing PFC Johnson's dead body riding below me in the belly of that plane, I noticed a couple of things. Two rows in front of me sat a father holding his daughter, an infant, and they were practicing "ma-ma" and in the row behind me was another young boy, probably 2 or so, learning to count to 10. Now obviously both are too young to realize we're at war, or that one of our dead was with us, but it made me think, and this is the point: These warriors, mostly young, all volunteers, everyday are prepared to give their lives for our future, for a safer, more secure future for people they don't even know, all based on the principle that fighting and dying for this country is worth it.
You all know and agree with this, but not everyone does, so I would ask that if you meet anyone that's not "on board" with this philosophy, i.e. the protesters to which Bob refers, that you "correct the situation".
By the way, the flight ended with all of us deplaning only to line the windows of the gate house to watch PFC Johnson's body, draped in the American flag, be rolled out of the plane and into a waiting hearse that was surrounded by his family members.
Please pray that our soldiers' sight is acute, their aim is true, and that as many come home as God can spare.
END CHAIN LETTER TEXT
Twenty-one year old PFC Howard Johnson, Jr. was a member of the 507th Maintenance Company, which was ambushed March 23, 2003, near An Nasiriyah in Iraq. Though stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas, Johnson was a native of Alabama. He was buried April 6, in Mobile. This chain letter started circulating soon after.
There is probably no reason to doubt PFC Johnson's body was transported via a commercial airliner and that the pilot announced this fact to the passengers, but, alas, there appears to be no reliable account of these events other than the letter cited above. Judging from the fact that the author did not identify himself or herself, the message was probably only intended for a small circle of acquaintances, all of whom know the author. The phrase "the protesters to which Bob refers" in one of the closing paragraphs suggests that the tale was first shared on a public message board. In essence, what we have here is an anonymous author's recollection of a highly emotional event, broadcast via a highly unreliable medium.
As with most chain letters, this tale has show signs of mutation as it circulates. The version above, attributed to Andy Nelson, is by far the most popular one circulating. Earlier versions were attributed to "a gentleman in Mobile (AL)." Andy Nelson is yet another innocent victim of False Attribution Syndrome.
Like many people, Nelson received the letter above from a friend and was moved enough by it to forward it to others. As he forwarded it, he added his name and contact information, as he does with every e-mail he sends. Unfortunately, someone mistook his signature block as proof that he wrote it. Almost immediately, the construction company project manager's phone began ringing off the hook. Nelson has mixed feelings about being associated with the message and desperately hopes to find the real author.
But Nelson's experience is not unique. When the story is especially touching, we want to know who wrote it, so that we can feel closer to it. So, any suggestion of an attribution is easily accepted as proof. Each year, hundreds of innocent people become mistakenly associated with e-mail messages they didn't write. Anyone who forwards a message like this one could fall victim. Break this chain.