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Shifty Powers

Claim:   General Chuck Yeager wrote an account of a chance encounter with Darrell "Shifty" Powers at a Philadelphia airport.

MIXTURE

Examples:   [Collected via e-mail, July 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 24x7 news coverage.

No weeping fans on television.

And that's not right.

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.
 

Variations:   A 2011 version of this item opened with the statement that Shifty Powers died on 17 January 2011. This is incorrect: as noted below, he passed away on 17 June 2009.

Origins:   The name of SSgt. Darrel 'Shifty' Powers should be familiar to anyone who has read the 2001 Stephen Ambrose book Band of Brothers, or viewed the superb HBO mini-series of the same name, which chronicled the exploits of E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from its initial training through its mission in WWII Europe from the D-Day invasion of Normandy all the way through to the end of the war. As a member of that famed Easy Company, SSgt. Powers featured in both Ambrose's book and the HBO mini-series (in which he was portrayed by actor Peter Youngblood Hills), appearing as himself in the penultimate episode to speak of his wartime experience:
In the second-to-last episode of "Band of Brothers," an HBO miniseries that documented Easy Company's wartime exploits, Powers spoke on camera about the soldiers he fought and also hinted at the intrinsic tragedy of combat.

"We might have had a lot in common. He might've liked to fish, you know, he might've liked to hunt," Powers said. "Of course, they were doing what they were
supposed to do, and I was doing what I was supposed to do.

"But under different circumstances, we might have been good friends."

Powers, who got the nickname "Shifty" playing basketball as a youngster, served three years in the Army during World War II and later worked as a machinist for Clinchfield Coal Corp. He found renewed notoriety when his military experiences were depicted on film and in the Stephen Ambrose book of the same name.

"He actually hadn't talked about it, his war years, until the book came out," said his daughter-in-law, Sandy Powers. "He gets fan mail from all over the world, and calls."

"For me and my kids, it's just amazing that our regular, sweet uncle was such a hero," said his niece, Cheryl Gilliland of Roanoke. "It sure changed his life in later years. He went places and met people he never would have otherwise."
It's true that Darrell Powers died at his home in Virginia on 17 June 2009 at the age of 86, and that his passing didn't receive much media coverage outside of his home state. (I have read Band of Brothers and watched the HBO series many times, and I wasn't aware he had died until we began receiving the e-mail quoted above.)

Authorship of the above-quoted piece, which describes an encounter with Darrell Powers at a Philadelphia airport several years ago, is often attributed to "retired Major General Chuck Yeager," but a representative of the General Chuck Yeager Foundation told us that General Yeager had nothing to do with it. Likewise, the account was not written by baseball great Roberto Clemente (who died in 1972), although the oft-appended "A nation without heroes is nothing" quote is his.

According to ABC News, the original e-mail was written by Mark Pfiefer (who also contacted us):
Mark Pfiefer ... confirmed to me that he wrote the e-mail and he was the man who met "Shifty" at the airport in Philadelphia.

Pfiefer, who worked for Dow Jones at the time he met "Shifty," said today he had no idea the e-mail would take on a life of its own. He just wanted those who received his e-mail to hold a private moment of silence.

"I found out this morning that some took it literally," he said, "and now thousands of people have been organized into a virtual memorial service for Shifty on July 20th. It will be on Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social networking sites."
Last updated:   9 March 2011

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Sources:

    Giusto, Tom.   "War Hero E-mail Goes Worldwide — But Who Really Wrote It?"
    ABC News.   16 July 2009.

    Harvey, Neil.   "Veteran a Part of 'Band of Brothers.'"
    The Roanoke Times.   18 June 2009.