Thursday, July 16, 2009
Darrell “Shifty” Powers, one of the soldiers depicted in “Band of Brothers,” passed away on Wednesday, June 17, 2009.
Powers, United States Army paratrooper and sharpshooter, Easy Company, 2d/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, died 17 June 2009 of natural causes at age 86.
Like millions of Americans, "Shifty" answered the call of World War II. A quiet, unassuming man, Shifty joined the Army and then volunteered for the Airborne. After intensive training, Powers was assigned to the famed Easy Company 2nd Battalion 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, where he jumped into Normandy on D-day. He was involved in the assault on Bracore Manor, which saved thousands of lives on Omaha Beach.
Powers fought in the battle of Carentan and the airborne invasion of Holland as part of Operation Market Garden, where millions of French and Dutch citizens were liberated.
During Hitler's final offensive, what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, the 506th was encircled by superior German forces in the Belgian town of Bastone. The 101st held out against incredible odds; their successful defense of bastogne was critical to turning the tide of the German offensive and ultimately the war in the Western Front. Powers and the 506th then entered Germany, liberated concentration camps and captured Hitler's "Eagles Nest" in Berchtesgarden.
Powers got the nickname "Shifty" playing basketball as a youngster. He served three years in the Army during World War II and later worked as a machinist for Clinchfield Coal Corp. He found renewed notoriety when Stephen Ambrose wrote about Easy Company in the World War II history Band of Brothers; Shifty’s experiences were depicted on the film of the same name.
"He actually hadn't talked about it, his war years, until the book came out," said his daughter-in-law, Sandy Powers.
In the second-to-last episode of "Band of Brothers," an HBO miniseries that documented Easy Company's wartime exploits, Powers spoke on camera about combat, the soldiers he served with and the German enemy he fought.
He recalled a bitterly cold day in the Ardennes when he was able to draw down on a German sniper, sighting his target by the misty cloud of the man's breath. He killed him with one shot.
"Right there," he said, touching his forehead. "Between the eyes."
He was reflective of such matters, "We might have had a lot in common. He might've liked to fish, you know, he might've liked to hunt. Of course, they were doing what they were supposed to do, and I was doing what I was supposed to do . . . under different circumstances, we might have been good friends."
"For me and my kids, it's just amazing that our regular, sweet uncle was such a hero," said his niece, Cheryl Gilliland of Roanoke. "It sure changed his life in later years. He went places and met people he never would have otherwise."
Darrell Powers met a German soldier in 2005 who had fought against him at the brutal siege of Bastogne during the winter of 1944.
According to his son, Wayne, he had been scheduled to travel to Iraq to meet with U.S. soldiers in September 2008, but health problems prevented it. "He was so disappointed. He wanted to meet with the soldiers so badly," Sandy Powers said.
One of his closest friends, Earl McClung, of Colorado, in 2001 called Darrell Powers "a heck of a good soldier and a heck of a good shot."
"And he was there every time I looked up," he added.
"Our family had four boys and one girl, and I'm the only one left," said Powers' sister, Gaynell Sykes of Roanoke, Virginia. "He was a great brother. I know he was great at a lot of other things, too -- great father, great son, great husband."
Blue Skies, and Godspeed to you Darrell "Shifty" Powers, Airborne Paratrooper - we know you're in that Great Big Drop Zone in the Sky, making linkup with the rest of your Band of Brothers.