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 24x7 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.
"A nation without heroes is nothing."
I was glad that "Shifty" was finally getting his due. But who started all this? And was the account of the airport meeting real?
When I telephoned Margo Johnson she was happy to talk about her dad who was always a hero to her. He was diagnosed with cancer in January. She said that up until his last days "Shifty," a humble man, enjoyed spending time talking with soldiers. He was supposed to go to Iraq but never made it because of his health.
Shifty, who got his nickname playing basketball, did make several trips back to Europe where he fought in the War. One time he graciously met with a former German World War II veteran. Usually, a family member would go with him. But he went alone sometime around 2002. And when he returned he told his family about the man he had met in at the airport in Philadelphia who offered him his seat in first class. The story, it turns out, is true.
The Johnson family received the original e-mail on July 7, 2009 from Mark Pfiefer. He confirmed to me that he wrote the e-mail and he was the man who met "Shifty" at the airport in Philadelphia.
Pfiefer, who worked for Dow Jones at the time he met "Shifty," said today he had no idea the e-mail would take on a life of its own. He just wanted those who received his e-mail to hold a private moment of silence.
"I found out this morning that some took it literally," he said, "and now thousands of people have been organized into a virtual memorial service for Shifty on July 20th. It will be on Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social networking sites."
"Shifty's" son-in-law Seldon Johnson said "Shifty" would be humbled by all the attention. "He was that kind of man, a true hero that did not seek notoriety. It found him," he said.
Johnson noted that strangers often would send checks to "Shifty" to get his autograph. "He refused to endorse them," he said. "If they sent a return envelope, he'd sign his signature, and return free gratis."
Our country owes much to World War II heroes like Darrell "Shifty" Powers. We're losing the remaining ones each day. And as Mark Pfiefer points out, they're not getting memorial services at the Staples Center. There are more veterans like "Shifty" and they too should be remembered.