An e-mail of this true-life story has been making its rounds on the net, but there are three mistakes in the e-mail:
- Retired Major General Chuck Yeager didn’t write it, neither did baseball great Roberto Clemente.
- The original account of this was written by Mark Pfeifer, a no-name non-celebrity who was working at Dow Jones at the time when he
encountered ”Shifty” in the Philadelphia Airport. (Why are these e-mails phonied up by attributing the source to fictitious famous people, as if only in so doing can the story acquire credibility?)
- “Shifty” died not in January 2011, but on June 17, 2009.
A True American Hero
Darrell “Shifty” Powers 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.
Again, very humbly, he said “I made the five training jumps 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 is, and I know what D-Day was.”
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.
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 who 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 quietly on June 17, 2009 at age 86 from 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 our own quiet way.
Rest in peace, Shifty.
“SHIFTY” – an incredible American hero – died June 17, 2009.