Much ink has been devoted lately to the demise of late pop icon Michael Jackson; television specials, memorial concerts, editorials, cartoons, and anthology CD collections have all been in the offing these past months.
Quieter horns announced the passing of Darrell “Shifty” Powers.
Shifty volunteered for airborne service in World War II and served with Easy Company, of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Infantry. Readers familiar with HBO’s Band of Brothers know Shifty: his character appears in every episode and Shifty himself is interviewed in several.
A young man met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago without realizing it. He saw an elderly gentleman having trouble reading his ticket and 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, he asked the older man if he’d been in the 101st Airborne, or if his son was then serving. The man said quietly that he had been in the 101st. The younger man thanked the gentleman for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made.
Quietly, Shifty said “Well, I guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945 … I made the five training jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy. . .do you know where Normandy is?”
The man told him yes, he knew exactly where Normandy was, and also knew what D-Day was. Then Shifty said “I also made a second jump into Holland, into Arnheim.”
The man asked Shifty if he was on his way back from France, since the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy had just passed, 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.”
The man helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized the older man was in coach, while he himself sat in first class. He sent the flight attendant back to get Shifty and said he wanted to switch seats. When Shifty came forward, the younger man got up out of the seat and told Shifty he wanted him to have it, that he’d take Shifty’s in coach.
Shifty 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 wet as he said it.
Shifty died on June 17 this year from cancer. There was no parade or Staples Center memorial in his honor; there was no news coverage.
Darrell “Shifty” Powers’ honor and integrity were worth more than any record collection ever could be, but escape attention because their worth is not accountable in money. He was a hero and a gentleman, and we were the better off for his life and the worse for his death, quiet though it may have been.
Let’s hope that, if not in our national media, in some corners praise is still given where due.