Click on over to Blackfive and read about the heroic life of one Darrell “Shifty” Powers, a genuine WWII hero who died in June 2009 to almost no fanfare or recognition of any kind.
He served in Easy Company, 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper, along with Major Dick Winters and the other guys from the 101st who were featured in “Band of Brothers”. An excellent series, by the way, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth watching. You feel like you know these guys after it’s done.
He landed at Normandy on D-Day. He jumped at Arnhem in Operation Market Garden. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
But when he died recently, the media yawned. They don’t have time for men like him any more. They create other types of heroes that we’re expected to worship, built on image and appearance and never having done an honest day’s work in their lives. Polar opposites, in other words, of a man like Shifty Powers.
There’s a great story embedded in an email at the Backfive post, some of which I’ve copied here:
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.Mine too, as I read it.
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.
Real heroes are humble, and always deflect attempts to label them as such. In fact, that seems to be a pretty reliable way to separate real heroes from the loudmouth types who crave publicity about their alleged wartime medals and heroism, and are nearly always found to be lying about all of it.
And all these WWII vets ask is that we remember. That’s all. Just remember.
Because remembering is a form of honor. The cheapest form of honor, in terms of the price we have to pay, but still a form of honor.
“Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and still care is enough to make an old man very happy.”
Oh, but he was more than just an old man. He was a symbol of a time when attitudes were different, when people accepted epic responsibilities at terribly young ages so that we could be free today.
Are we thankful enough? You tell me.
I’ll remember, and I’ll teach my kids to remember, and I’ll ask family and friends to remember. It is the very least, the absolute least, we can do.
May he rest in peace.
(original from July 2009 at my old website: Darrel "Shifty" Powers, R.I.P.)