264. Fallen Heroes

A few months ago, my brother-in-law Don Ford sent me this story.  And it had been sent to him by Mary Bronson.  Thanks to both of them.

If you know the story, you may also know that has been associated with “urban legend”, not because it’s not true, but because of confusion as to who really wrote and posted the original email.  Shortly after the posting, the message went viral and during its promulgation, the author was mistakenly reported to be Major General Chuck Yeager.

According to ABC News on July 16, 2009, it was actually written by a man named Mark Pfiefer. It was he who met “Shifty”, the subject of the story in a Philadelphia airport.   Pfiefer, who worked for Dow Jones at the time, said he had no idea the email would take on a life of its own.   He just wanted those who received it to hold a private moment of silence as a memorial to Shifty. 

This is the text of Pfiefer’s original email (I inserted photos from Wikipedia and http://www.findagrave.com):

One of the “Band of Brothers” soldiers died on June 17, 2009. 

We’re hearing a lot today about big splashy memorial services. I want a nationwide memorial service for Darrell “Shifty” Powers. 

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. 

And that’s not right.

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

Rest in peace, Shifty. 

________________________________________________________

So that was the email. It didn’t really tell much about Shifty’s heroism.  Wikipedia does a better job of revealing the details. 

_____________________________________________________________

Staff Sergeant Darrell C. “Shifty” Powers (March 13, 1923 – June 17, 2009) was a non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.  Powers was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers . . .

Powers was born in Clinchco, Dickenson County, Virginia and volunteered for the paratroopers . . . Shifty spent a great deal of time in the outdoors hunting game prior to joining the service. This later proved useful as many of the skills he obtained helped him as a soldier. He graduated from high school. Powers enlisted on August 14, 1942 at Richmond, Virginia.

Powers jumped into Normandy on D-Day, missing his drop zone. He eventually came in contact with Floyd Talbert and the two made their way to Easy Company. 

He also participated in the Allied military operation Operation Market Garden in theNetherlands, and the Battle of the Bulge in Foy, Belgium.  While in Foy, a German sniper shot three members of Easy Company, and everyone hid for cover. With the aid of C. Carwood Lipton, Shifty made a heroic attempt and silenced the German with his M1 right between the eyes. Company members say Powers saved many lives that day. He was generally considered to be the best shot in Easy Company. 

One of his most truly remarkable achievements, and a testament to the extraordinary gifts his backwoods upbringing brought to Easy Company, was the story documented in the Ambrose book, Band of Brothers, about the time in Bastogne when Shifty mentioned to his commanding officer that he noticed a tree in the distant forest that was not there just the day before. The “tree” was ultimately discovered to be a camouflaged German artillery piece. Were it not for Shifty’s keen observations and outdoors experiences, many lives may have been lost, had that enemy weapon not been spotted from a distance of nearly a mile away and amongst a literal forest of other trees.

Because many men serving in the 101st lacked the minimum points required to return home, a lottery was put in place. Shifty Powers won this lottery after the rest of the company rigged it in his favor by removing their own names, and was set to return stateside. 

During the trip to the airfield, the vehicle that Shifty was in was involved in an accident and he was badly injured. He spent many months recuperating in hospitals overseas while his comrades in arms arrived home long before he did.

Honorably discharged from the Army in the postwar demobilization, he became a machinist for the Clinchfield Coal Corporation. 

. . . Powers died on June 17, 2009 of cancer in Dickenson County, Virginia.  He is buried at Temple Hill Memorial Park, Castlewood, Russell County, Virginia.

_____________________________________________________________

So let’s have a moment of silence for Shifty Powers – this brave war hero.

But if you happen to visit the cemetery this Memorial Day Weekend, also give a nod to all those graves of veterans decorated with the American Flag.

May you all rest in peace, Sirs.  And Ladies.

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One Response to 264. Fallen Heroes

  1. Linda Lewis says:

    It has been a special privilege for me to have had the opportunity to be with my Dad for several Sundays in his retirement community. Four Veteran couples have become close friends and eat dinner together at the same table every Sunday. All served in WWII and three of the wives served as nurses. My questions have often brought rich discussions on their experiences.
    One particular Sunday I invited a special resident to join the group that I had befriended on one of my trips. I met him at lunch one day when he sat down at the table with my Dad and me. I knew he must be important, because when he asked if he could join us, my Dad sat up and said, “This is Sherman Washburn! He was the favorite news caster on radio before television for many years in here in Portland!” Our friendship blossomed when he found out I taught people quickly how to type and if I knew about the Dvorak keyboard. He said Dr. Dvorak taught him how to type on his faster typewrite and a rich exchange of stories began, and thus our friendship.
    Back to the Sunday dinner where I invited Sherman to join Dad’s dear friends. Everyone had loads of questions for Sherman, but the one that brought out the most thrilling discussion was where each one was on the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed.
    That day changed Sherman’s life, as he was not a noted announcer until that point. He said the main announcer was not able to break the news so he was called into the press room in a scurry and was able to read with dignity, clarity and compassion, the terrifying news many times that day. He fielded numerous calls that day and was immediately promoted to head announcer and spent many years as the respected and favored newscaster.
    One of Dad’s friends was a naval fighter pilot, who landed planes on those big carriers. Dad said he always wondered and asked him how in the world could he ever know how to get back to his ship at night with no lights, in the dark with no radar. He said he knew exactly where the ship was by positioning 100 miles or so out and which direction it was. The humility and pride of each one is precious.
    Here’s another interesting unknown exchange. Recently, I was having lunch with one of the wives who was a nurse during the war. When asked what she wanted for dessert and chocolate chip cookies were a choice, she told me she never wanted another Toll House chocolate chip cookie again. She explained that during the war, the families back home always sent chocolate chip cookies by the batch every week to almost every soldier. Everyone was always offering them to everyone else because there were so many. She also added that no one would ever think of not appreciating the love that went into sending them because with food rationing, chocolate chips and sugar were hard to come by and that they must have given up a lot to be able to get chocolate chips and sugar to make them.
    Last Veteran’s Day I was visiting Dad and heard lots of talk about how many of the residents had been invited to go to the local schools to talk to the children. They said that most of the volunteers were from more recent wars, which the kids were more interested in hearing about.
    One thing I am grateful for is that there are so many fine retirement homes now. The food at Dad’s place is excellent. He now has a beautiful room in assisted living with a view of the Willamette River, koi ponds with a Japanese bridge going over them and a water fall. He loves his new place and is getting lots of attention from caring staff. They all love his charming sense of humor and value what he has done as a volunteer where he lives. In two more months we will celebrate his 100th birthday. He wears out his walker going to various activities, pinochle being one that he never misses. He goes to balance classes and still maintains the electric trains with four different kinds running at the push of a button by eager grand children and the young at heart.
    Our freedom is a precious thing to behold.

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