SMM – Roberto Clemente’s story about Darrell “Shifty” Powers (May 25, 2016)
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.
Roberto met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago. He didn’t know who he was at the time. He just saw an elderly gentleman having trouble reading his ticket. He 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, Roberto 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. Roberto 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.
Roberto 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.” Roberto was standing with a genuine war hero . . . . and then Roberto realized that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day.
Roberto 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.” Roberto’s heart was in his throat and he didn’t know what to say.
Roberto helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach, while Roberto was in First Class. Roberto sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that he wanted to switch seats. When Shifty came forward, Roberto got up out of the seat and told him he wanted Shifty to have it, that Roberto would take his 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 filling up as he said it.
Shifty died of lung cancer on 17 June 2009, in Dickenson County, Virginia. He is buried at Temple Hill Memorial Park, Castlewood, Russell County, Virginia.
There was no parade.
No local town special event.
No wall to wall back to back 24×7 news coverage.
No weeping fans on television.
Rest in peace, Shifty.
Scouts, always remember, “A nation without heroes is nothing.”