You've probably received or heard about the e-mail traveling around the world that calls for an online memorial service for World War II hero Darrell "Shifty" Powers who died quietly last month at age 86. It served its purpose of getting national attention for former SSgt. Powers, a member of the 101st Airborne who parachuted into Normandy and who was profiled in the HBO war series "Band of Brothers."
The e-mail's writer described meeting "Shifty" at an airport in Philadelphia and, upon learning of his accomplishments in the war, offered to switch his first-class seat for "Shifty's" seat in coach. For some people it sounded too poignant to be true. I was very skeptical and believed it was one of those made up e-mails based on partial truths whose writer's goal is more about seeing how far it can travel in cyberspace.
Some versions of the e-mail give the impression it was written by another hero, famed test pilot Chuck Yeager, while others say it comes from military columnist Joe Galloway.
But neither man actually wrote it. The e-mail was unsigned.
The original e-mail you'll see below is very moving and reminds us that we have not always given the heroes of World War II their proper sendoffs. And "Shifty" died just before Michael Jackson. A lot of people were angry that news coverage of Jackson's death and memorial service pushed so many other deserving stories off the newspaper pages and TV screens.
But the questions remain. Is the personal account of meeting "Shifty" in this e-mail true, and who wrote it?
The e-mail reads as follows:
"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.