If you heard just the intonations in his tone of voice, you would instantly feel a warmth from Shifty, even if you had never met him. If you had looked into his eyes, there was a softness there, indicating the man he was. That softness, during the war, would be hidden behind a sharpshooters eyes, one out to do his job, and have the back of his fellow paratroopers. But who was Darrell C. Powers
Born in Clinchco, Virginia, on March 13, 1923, Darrell Powers grew up outdoors. When he was young, he was taught to shoot by his father, who in himself was an excellent rifle and pistol shot. Darrell’s skills with a gun were extraordinary. He was known to throw a coin in the air, and be able to hit it with his rifle. He also loved to play basketball. The nickname ‘shifty’ originated from this, from the observation of how fast and shifty he was on his feet.
When he graduated from high school, he took a machinist course. It was there, that one of his many friendships began. He became friends with Robert Wynn, known as Popeye. Together they went to the shipyards in Portsmouth Virginia, where they finished the machinist course.
Life was about to change for Darrell. In Richmond Virginia, on 14 August 1942, he signed on the dotted line to be in the army. Darrell Powers became a member of Easy Company, 2nd Batallian, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
Under the training of Captain Herbert Sobel, and in the shadow of Currahee Mountain, Powers completed his training and earned his wings. Jumping into Normandy on D-Day, he missed his drop zone. This happened to several others. Joining up with fellow soldiers, it took several days to liaise with Easy Company. They came together in Carentan.
Shifty also fought in Belgium, in the Battle of the Bulge. It was here that whilst in the woods, Shifty`s remarkable abilities were tested. On December 29, 1944, he noted a tree that was not there the previous day. The “tree” was part of the camouflage the Germans had used for their anti-aircraft battery.
Permission was given and within the hour, despite a shortage of ammunition, the area was deserted. Lipton commented, “It all happened, because Shifty saw a tree almost a mile away that hadn’t been there the day before.”
Another such example, 13 January 1945, during the attack of Foy, several of Easy Company found themselves pinned down by a sniper. Shifty yelled out “I can see him” and fired. When the snipers body was located, the gunshot was observed to be centred in his forehead. Popeye was heard to say “you know, it just doesn’t pay to be shootin` at Shifty when he’s got a rifle.’
Throughout the whole of his combat life, Shifty was one of the rarities. He was never wounded. When the time came to look at who had sufficient points to go home, Shifty lacked the points to go home under the system that was in place. He became part of a lottery that permitted one man from each company to return home early. He was that lottery winner, with a little help from his friends. The rest of Easy Company removed their names, allowing him the honour of going home.
That honour was bittersweet. As he was taken to the airfield to catch his ride home, he was badly injured in an accident. He remained overseas recuperating for many months. In fact the rest of his Easy Company comrades were home before he was
How Shifty described the war
The website normandy1944.info has a few stories from Shifty about his war experiences. He talked twice about almost shooting his friend Bill Keen. The other incident he mentions relates to Bastogne. This is quoted directly from the website.
Shifty said “Another incident I will mention occurred in Bastogne. Easy Company was pulled off the line and put in reserve for a short rest. There was about 10-12 inches of snow on the ground. We were bivouacked in an area of Pine trees. We placed pine branches over our foxholes to keep out some of the snow. I climbed out of my foxhole at daybreak. I was standing among the trees all by myself. As I looked at the mounds in the snow, I thought how it looked just like a graveyard. Then the guys would pop up out these mounds. This was such a weird sight! It looked as if they were climbing out of their graves. One soldier asked me who was doing the shooting during the night. I told him that I had not heard any shooting.
Then I remembered the dream I had that night: I had dreamed that I was shooting at one of our own. I don’t know why. When I remembered my dream, I thought, “Man, I better check this out!” I eased my pistol out and sure enough I had fired it twice during the night. Then I started watching the guys climbing out of their foxholes. I breathed a sigh of relief when saw they were all allright. I was glad that I hadn’t shot anyone while sleepwalking during that snowy night in Bastogne.”
After the war
When Shifty Powers made it home, after his honourable discharge, he became a machinist, a reflection of his life before his time with Easy Company. He spent some time in California, spending a few years there as a machinist. When he was laid off due to loss of government contracts, he returned home to Clinchco. The Clinchfield Coal Corporation were blessed with more than 20 years from Shifty.
Darrell Powers. Sharpshooter from Easy Company was home with his family, but he appeared to be in declining health. Depression set in. However the release of Band of Brothers and the speaking engagements that accompanied the show, was reported to have brought him back, brought him out of his shell.
Peter Youngblood Hills played Shifty in HBOs Band of Brothers. When I interviewed Peter for Madhatterpress, this is what he said about Shifty Powers.
“I went to visit it him before we started shooting. He helped me find the spirit of what made him who he was, and how to keep that in heart and mind while bringing the character to life. He let me shoot his M1, and took me hiking. We drank cocktails on his porch, and watched the world go by. He told me lots of his stories, and what made him sad, regretful, and angry and what he was grateful for. He was a faithful and humble mountain man that loved God, loved people, loved his family, loved nature, loved hunting and loved to help everybody as best he could.”
These words sum up the character of Shifty. A humble man who loved his family. A man grateful for what he had in the world.
Darrell Powers died of lung cancer on 17 June 2009, in Virginia. He spent 60 beautiful years married to his wife Dorothy at the time of his passing. He was buried at Temple Hill Memorial Par, in Russell County, Virginia.
The last words of this piece, I give over to NYT best selling author Author Marcus Brotherton. Marcus was the author of ‘Shiftys War: The Authorised Biography of Sergeant Darrell “Shifty” Powers. Marcus explained, “Shifty modeled empathy. That’s the greatest lesson I learned from the study of his life. He knew how to see enemy soldiers through their eyes, to understand that they were people just like him. That’s a powerful lesson for anybody.”
Peter Youngblood Hills – Your portrayal of Shifty was exquisite and I thank you for it.
Marcus Brotherton – Your book is an incredible biography. As I read the book, I could hear Shifty`s voice emanating from the pages.
Shifty – Thank you for your service. You will never be forgotten.