November interview with Darrell
A Real Man From The Band of Brothers -
Darrell Shifty Powers -
We few, we happy few, we band of
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
- Quote from
William Shakespeares King Henry V
Theres a kind of reverence in the above
quote that stirs my soul and fiercely inspires me
to greater things as a man.
The WWII movie Band of Brothers had
the same soulful effect on me. Steven Ambrose, who
wrote the non-fiction book of the same title,
produced the HBO TV series with Stephen Spielberg
and Tom Hanks.
My wife Patricia and I became such big fans of
the program we bought it and watched it over and
over again. We loaned the set to her son Brandon
Meade to watch, and as it turns out, Brandon lives
just one hill over from one of the soldiers in Easy
Company - Darrell Shifty Powers - who
was still alive and well in a holler among the coal
fields of Southwest Virginia.
Shifty was willing to meet with us at his home
in Clinchcove, Virginia. We all felt like we were
going to see a big-time movie star as we turned
right at the street sign marked Shifty
Id seen his face during the interview
portions of the Band of Brothers movie
enough times to recognize him from a distance as he
stood on his front lawn awaiting our arrival.
Shiftys Company E ("Easy Company") of the
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. 101st
Airborne Division, was unarguably the best company
of the 2nd battalion. Throughout the European
campaign, Easy Company participated in many of the
major battles of the war, including a key task
during D-Day eliminating 4 German 105mm cannons
aimed at Utah Beach. Also, Easy Company spearheaded
the Allied offensive by landing in Normandy; it
participated in Operation Market Garden and the
Battle of Bastogne; it held the line at the Battle
of the Bulge when the 101st Airborne was surrounded
and cut off by Germans; and it was the first
company to enter Berchesgaden and Hitler's famous
Shifty joined Easy Company when he was 19 years
old. He is now 84.
We sat on his porch and listened to him tell the
stories of war from another generation. It was
truly an honor for us to be with this man of living
Before the book and the movie came out, I
never talked about my experience in the war,
he began. My father was in WWI and I never
did talk to him about it either. I regret it now.
The only people I talked about it with were the men
from Easy Company who were there every year at the
reunions. You know, guys get together and say
you remember this or you remember that?
I worked as a machinist at this shop right along
side these guys for twenty years, and I never
talked about it.
After he retired, Shifty said he met one of his
coworkers at a store and the man wanted to know
how come you never told me about your war
What a wonderful experience it was for us to
share in Shiftys remembrances!
We trusted each other with our lives, and
we still would! Shifty said. You
dont really know
you cant really
understand the depth of a man until you get in
combat with him. I knew Easy Company men better
than my own family
you just feel so close
that you even know what the other man is thinking.
Believe me, that can help you stay alive.
I sat amazed, focused in on this man, wondering
how he survived the long horrific battles of World
War II. I was determined to discover the secret
from his remembrances.
At the end of the fighting, Shifty was one of
the fortunate soldiers who won the
lottery to go home early. (You see this
part in the movie.) On his way back, however, he
gets in a terrible vehicle accident and ends up
spending months in the hospital to recuperate from
numerous broken bones and other injuries.
To survive in battle, we knew we had to
depend on each other. It wasnt like the kind
of camaraderie youd find on a team sport like
baseball or basketball
talking about egos and who thinks theyre
better than the other. In combat, our lives
literally depended on us knowing and working
Shifty, tell me if there was some kind of
guiding principle that held you all together.
I dont know how you can
advise people about working together
good leadership. Captain Herbert Sobel kept us
together during training.
In the movie, actor David Schwimmer played
Captain Sobel in such a memorable performance, it
made it easy for me to hate his character. Shifty
surprised me by saying he felt sorry
for Sobel when Easy Company was taken away from
He was real, real strict, but he never
asked you to do anything he wouldnt do. We
would run 6 miles up that hill and back down.
Whatever we did, he did. He was strict as he could
be. He kept you in camp on Friday nights, but he
would make sure you were entertained so you
wouldnt be out running around getting into
trouble. He was a good training officer, but he
didnt know maps.
Shifty, is it the training that carries you
through the terrible chaos of battle and the
screams of wounded men
the whistling of
bullets by your head?
can help you keep a sense of who you are in
difficult times. Its just like your dad
teaching you something
go out there and do this, or youll suffer
youll get restricted.
Having never served in the military, myself, I
wanted to know what prepares a man for war.
You just do what you were taught
and when youre in combat, your non-coms
run the wars, officers dont run the wars. The
officers say were going to attack this place
right here, and then the non-coms do it. The
non-coms showed us more respect. Now, if
youre standing in formation and an officer
comes up and inspects your shoes, haircut, or
rifle, and finds something wrong - you should agree
with him a hundred percent and take care of it -
not shrug it off and say that SOB doesnt know
what hes talking about it.
Major Dick Winters was a man Shifty said the men
of Easy Company trusted readily.
He was a hero at what he did a real
good officer and a fine tactician. I remember one
of the first times he stood in front of us and
asked if anybody wanted to wrestle him. Nobody
responded. Any two of you like to wrestle
me? Nobody. Any three of you like to
wrestle me? Well, three fools stepped
forward, and he beat the shit out of them. Winters
was always in top shape. He didnt drink or
smoke. He was what you thought an officer should
be, he took responsibility for what had to be done.
Hed be friendly with you, but it had to be
one on one.
Heres a cool remembrance from Shifty.
There was this incident in Holland where
we were going to take this small town, but we
didnt have time to drive the Germans out so
we dug in on the outskirts. So here come a jeep
with men from HQ and they drove right through our
line. Well, the Germans took them prisoner. Later,
I could see that theres an American walking
up the road with these two Germans. I grabbed my
rifle and I got down and took a bead on one of them
Germans. And then I started thinking that if I
could see those people, thered be Germans
that could see them too. I didnt want the
American killed, so I put my rifle down. I came
within a hair of shooting them Germans. I thought
that if we take the town tomorrow, I might find
that American alive. If Id pulled the
trigger, three people could have ended up
Shifty said they captured the town the next day
and freed seven American prisoners. He didnt
know if his man was one of them.
I remember in Holland, Lt. Shames gave
Easy Company an assignment for a night maneuver. He
said to me, Sergeant, you take your squad,
and machine gun, and go out to this place and set
up a roadblock. Theres been a report of
Germans coming through there. So I got the guys
after dark and we got out there where we were
supposed to be and set up the machine gun. We set
there all night long waiting on Germans, but they
didnt come. It started to get light and we
didnt want to go back to the command post or
get on the radio. There was this little house over
in a field and we thought wed spend the day
there resting and then head back to the CP at
nightfall. So I go into the house to check it out,
and I tell the others to wait on the porch. I found
six American soldiers sleeping in the basement. I
went back out to the porch and told them to come on
in it looked safe. We were all so tired
being up all day and all night that we just slept.
Nobody talked. We didnt say anything to the
other soldiers and they didnt say anything to
us. Then when it was dark, we loaded up and went
back to the CP. Now, days later, we find out those
Germans we were looking for had dressed up in
American uniforms. Then I remembered that I
didnt ask them in that house what outfit they
were with, and they didnt ask us. We just
assumed they were Americans, and it worked out that
we didnt shoot at each other that
Heres another one he remembers.
In Bastogne that was the worst deal
of the war - it was miserable, cold, snow was on
the ground, wind was blowing and we didnt
have on winter clothes, not a lot of ammunition,
and nothing to eat. We didnt know if
wed get shot first or freeze to death.
Germans would shell us every few hours. It was
constant shelling. So one morning Im looking
out of my fox hole at the edge of the woods
some 75 yards away. I see some shrubs, but it
didnt look like it ought to. Suspicious, you
know. I called the first sergeant and I say,
See those shrubs over there? They
werent there last night. I think the Germans
put in a machine gun nest. The sergeant said
he couldnt see anything. Finally we saw the
bush move and moments later a plane flew over and
wiped them out.
You noticed something your first sergeant
didnt, I exclaimed! Is the answer to survival
in battle, a keen sense of awareness?
I guess you could call it that
maybe keen perception. I was squirrel hunting all
my life up in these hollers. Usually if you walk
quiet, you can hear squirrels on either side of
you. You hunt by sound as much as by
This was a real education for me.
I was used to being out in nature and
paying attention to things. I could go without
water and food all day. Id noticed things. I
guess that helped me in Europe.
For all you people who make fun of
hillbillys, theres no better buddy to
have with you in a time of crisis than somebody
from the hills. I married a girl from the hills.
Theyre tough people. Theyre good people
- these mountain folk. Theyre country
In Holland I was on an advance party and
we were walking along and I noticed these two
Chestnut trees loaded down with chestnuts. I
climbed the tree and started picking them. The
other guys thought they were the Buckeyes you
cant eat. I took them to the cook and he said
they were good, so we all ate them. After that, if
I picked a berry and ate it, they did
Who taught you all that stuff, Shifty?
My daddy did. He raised me to shoot. He
was an excellent shot. My daddy, he did everything
he could to help us kids and he never laid a hand
on me - not the first paddling. Oh, he would talk
stern, and restrict me
but if I wanted a
nickel to buy a Coca-Cola, if he had it, I got
Shifty had four siblings: his sister and two
brothers who served in the Navy and one brother in
Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion of
fathers and sons hanging out together?
Anymore it takes every bit of energy to
make a living, to pay the insurance, the house
payments. Parents dont have the time to get
involved with the kids
to play ball, or fish
with them. My grandson, hes 26, and works in
one of the coal mines. I took him in the woods and
I taught him every tree and what it was, and how to
identify them. Theyre hundreds of different
kinds. I taught him to fish, and to hunt.
Heres one last remembrance from a man who
jumped out of airplanes, who endured danger and
hardships who survived WWII. When I asked
him what bothered him the most from the war, he
told me this:
I remember in Bastogne
I was on the
front line when F Company came to relieve us. We
went back to the rear area to rest up for a couple
days. We dug fox holes and covered them over with
pine. It snowed during the night and when I got up
the next morning, I looked around me and it was
like looking at a graveyard with mounds of snow
over fox holes. After a few moments a guy near me
pops his head out. He says, Shifty? Who was
doing all the shooting last night? I thought
about it and remembered
I had had this dream
where I was shooting at this guy in my company with
my pistol. So right then and there I eased my
pistol out and discovered I had fired two rounds
during the night. That worried me to death. To this
day I wonder where those two shots went.
Thank you for opening your heart to us that day,
Shifty. We will remember you. We thank you for your
service to our country. We thank you for our
© 2008 Reid Baer
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
Tale is also a newspaper journalist, a poet
with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide,
and a novelist with his first book released this
month entitled Kill
The Story. Baer has been
a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and
currently edits The New Warrior Journal for
The ManKind Project www.mkp.org
He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife
Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.
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