Shifty Powers in death as in life, a lesson to learn

July 22, 2009

Darrell “Shifty” Powers, Photos: The Powers Family Handout

Sixty five years and eleven days from the early morning when he jumped from a lumbering C-47 into the flak filled sky over Normandy, WWII veteran, original Band of Brothers member, and a true American Hero, Darrell “Shifty” Powers passed from this earth that he once helped save.

I received the letter below regarding a chance encounter with “Shifty” in my email just this morning.  A little research revealed that sadly I am a month behind remembering this man and two days past the date passed around the internet as a “virtual” memorial to the man and his contribution.

But considering how over the past few weeks certain Wichita City Council members accused some of our very own American Hero’s as being “racists” for not wanting a foreign tribute in an American veterans park, and how others completely lost their spines so as “not to offend” (Paul Gray excluded, watch the video of the council meeting yesterday and you will see true leadership.), I feel it appropriate to ask all to reflect upon “Shifty” and his generation.  That by remembering him, others may in the future think twice before so quickly disrespecting those who have come after.

Shifty volunteered for the airborne in WWII and served with Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Infantry. If you’ve seen Band of Brothers on HBO or the History Channel, you know Shifty. His character appears in all 10 episodes, and Shifty himself is interviewed in several of them.

I met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago. I didn’t know who he was at the time. I just saw an elderly gentleman having trouble reading his ticket. I offered to help, assured him that he was at the right gate, and noticed the “Screaming Eagle”, the symbol of the 101st Airborne, on his hat.

Making conversation, I asked him if he’d been in the 101st Airborne or if his son was serving. He said quietly that he had been in the 101st. I thanked him for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made.

Quietly and humbly, he said “Well, I guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945 . . . ” at which point my heart skipped.

At that point, again, very humbly, he said “I made the 5 training jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy . . . . do you know where Normandy is?” At this point my heart stopped.

I told him yes, I know exactly where Normandy was, and I know what D-Day was. At that point he said “I also made a second jump into Holland, into Arnhem.” I was standing with a genuine war hero . . . . and then I realized that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day.

I asked Shifty if he was on his way back from France, and he said “Yes. And it’s real sad because these days so few of the guys are left, and those that are, lots of them can’t make the trip.” My heart was in my throat and I didn’t know what to say.

I helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach, while I was in First Class. I sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that I wanted to switch seats. When Shifty came forward, I got up out of the seat and told him I wanted him to have it, that I’d take his in coach.

He 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.” His eyes were filling up as he said it. And mine are brimming up now as I write this.

Shifty died on June 17 after fighting cancer.  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.

Let’s give Shifty his own Memorial Service, online, in our own quiet way. Please forward this email to everyone you know. Especially to the veterans.

Rest in peace, Shifty.

“A nation without heroes is nothing.”
Roberto Clemente

With all the hoaxes traveling the net these days one could  be forgiven for thinking the above a well penned work of fiction.  But you will be glad to know it is indeed true.

The letter was originally attributed to famous test pilot Chuck Yeager and was even reported as such by none other than Brian Williams of NBC news in a  video tribute .  (Must be something about NBC and their affiliates.  Maybe “why bother with the facts” Witsman over at KSN was just taking a cue from higher ups when he penned his original fact challenged story on our own veterans.)

Some real reporting by Tom Guisto of ABC News tracked down the author of the letter, Mark Pfeifer, and has perspective from Shifty’s family.

While a compromise over the South Vietnamese memorial was reached at yesterday’s City Council meeting, said “compromise” sadly would have never been needed if some had not compromised values and tradition in the first place.

To Shifty and all:  Thank you for your service, and God Bless.


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