Email Memorializes Darrell 'Shifty' Powers

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Email tribute to Darrell 'Shifty' Powers, World War II hero and member of the 'Band of Brothers' made famous by the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries of the same title. He died on June 17, 2009.

Description: Forwarded email
Circulating since: July 2009
Status: True (see details below)

Email contributed by a reader, July 14, 2009:

Fwd: Band of Brothers Hero

One of the "Band of Brothers" soldiers died on June 17, 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.

"A nation without heroes is nothing."
Roberto Clemente

Analysis: Apart from the question of who actually wrote this piece (see below), there's little to take issue with in the above message.

Darrell "Shifty" Powers, who died of cancer on June 17, 2009, served as a U.S. Army paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, "Easy Company" during World War II. Known by his fellow soldiers as both a quiet man and an excellent sharpshooter, Shifty Powers was among those who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. By the time he was discharged from the Army in 1945, he had been awarded an Expert Rifleman Badge, a Combat Infantry Badge, a Presidential Unit Citation, and two Bronze Stars. And he was indeed one of the "Band of Brothers" portrayed in the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries of the same name. The word "hero" is consistently used to describe him.


But while the airport meeting recounted above is plausible and its portrayal of Shifty Powers consistent with what has been said about him by friends, fellow soldiers, and family, authorship of the email has been attributed to more than one person, including retired Brig.

Gen. Chuck Yeager and newspaper columnist Joseph L. Galloway. I checked with an editor of Yeager's website, who told me the famed Air Force pilot definitely did not write it.

I was in the process of trying to track down Joe Galloway when a man named Mark Pfeifer contacted me and acknowledged being the real author.

Pfeifer says he penned the message on July 7, 2009 and emailed it to a limited list of friends and acquaintances, including members of Powers' family. "I had no idea it would take on a life of its own," he told me — which is precisely what it did. In little over a week of circulation it had reached such a wide audience that it was cited by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams — albeit attributed to Chuck Yeager — as the inspiration for his own on-air tribute to Darrell "Shifty" Powers.

ABC News confirmed both Pfeifer's authorship and the broad details of the airport encounter in Philadelphia after speaking with Powers' daughter, Margo Johnson.

Sources and further reading:

War Hero Email Goes Worldwide - But Who Really Wrote It?
ABC News, 16 July 2009

Band of Brothers Hero Darrell 'Shifty' Powers Dies
Bristol Herald Courier, 20 June 2009

Shifty Powers of 'Band of Brothers' Fame Dies
Richland News Press, 19 June 2009

Veteran a Part of 'Band of Brothers'
Roanoke Times, 18 June 2009

Darrell 'Shifty' Powers
Find-A-Grave memorial page

Last updated 02/21/11