Death Of A Hero: SSG Darrell “Shifty” Powers
You know, the word “hero” gets tossed around a lot these days. That’s not to say there aren’t heroes in our midst, there certainly are, but sometimes it’s just a good idea to sit back for a second and reflect on the word and its real meaning.
If you’re a fan of the HBO series “Band of Brothers”, then you know what real heroes look like. The paratroopers of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division were soldiers we got to know during that series through the depiction of their heroic actions throughout the unit’s fight through Europe.
They became real people on the screen. That’s because we got to know the real people the actors were portraying in a series of interviews with the survivors of the unit which were cut in at intervals throughout the film.
Well, with little notice or fanfare, one of Easy Company’s heroes made his final jump on June 17th of this year. SSG Darrell “Shifty” Powers has joined the 101st immortals, passing away last month as a result of cancer. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, his death barely got a notice.
Today, members of the milblog community are holding a virtual memorial for Shifty Powers, a man who helps define the word hero. Here’s a portion of an email that has gone viral which does a much better job than I can in giving you an idea of who Shifty Powers was:
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.
Today is a day to remember what he did and reflect on that. Of course his understated “I made the 5 training jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy” doesn’t even begin to describe what jumping into Normandy entailed:
“I could hear bullets and shrapnel hitting the plane. As I jumped out the door, I could see that the left motor was on fire.” – Darrell Shifty Powers talking about jumping over Normandy, France, on D-Day.
Real heroes really don’t talk about it much, and they usually don’t include themselves when they do.
There are some real heroes that live among us and they deserve more than just a passing notice when they die. Shifty Powers was one of those heroes.
May he rest in peace and in the acclaim for his deeds he so richly deserves.
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother