July 30, 2009

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if Old Yeller had never taught me that it was okay to cry? Okay, I'm not one that totes a box of Kleenex around with me every where, nor do I openly sob, weep and whimper during such tear-jerkers as the Disney classic. But I'm not afraid to admit that I occasionally become "a little verklempt" as Mike Myers famous Saturday Night Live character, Linda Richmond, would proclaim when her emotions would overcome her.

I've recently discovered my biggest soft spot is for military stories. Saving Private Ryan hits home for me every time I watch it, and regardless how many times I witness Private Ryan returning to Europe to visit the graves of his fellow soldiers that lost their lives "saving" him, it gets me every time.

Since I don't have the cable service, HBO, I never had the opportunity to watch the mini-series, Band of Brothers, based on the 2001 book by Stephen Ambrose that chronicled a company of the 101st Airborne during World War II.

But that didn't save me from getting a tad red-eyed when I read a recent e-mail regarding one of the true-life heroes of the book.

Often we get mass-circulated tall tales that leave us a bit skeptical, so much so that I have Snopes.com book-marked on my web browser. According to the fact checking website, the following is true, so I wanted to share it with any of you that may not have already found it in your inbox.

According to Snopes.com, an employee of Dow Jones had a chance meeting with the war veteran in a Philadelphia airport. He took exception to the fact that this hero's passing had not been deemed more newsworthy, and he penned an e-mail regarding his meeting, with little idea it would end up accomplishing the goal of reaching readers across the world.

One of the "Band of Brothers" soldiers died on June 17, 2009.

We're hearing a lot today about big splashy memorial services for such as Michael Jackson.

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 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. Please forward this email to everyone you know. Especially to the veterans.

Rest In Peace, Shifty.

Okay, we're not CNN or the USA Today, but at least one media source in America can claim to have spent more ink on memorializing a worthy veteran than was wasted flattering the passing of an embattled pop star idol.

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