Failure Is Not An Option – Albert Darago

18 01 2015

The following article was written by Michael E. Ruane, and published on December 15, 2014 by The Washington Post.  Ruane is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.

Photo credit:  Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

Photo credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post

In 1944 Battle of the Bulge, Albert Darago, then 19, took on a German tank by himself

Albert Darago had never fired a bazooka before. He was an “ack-ack” guy, a fuse-cutter on a 90mm antiaircraft gun. But on Dec. 19, 1944, the brass was looking for volunteers to go after some German tanks. And Darago said sure.

He was a 19-year-old, color-blind draftee, a native of Baltimore’s Little Italy and a musician who played piano and clarinet. He was no hero, he said.

But when Adolf Hitler launched the massive attack that began World War II’s bloody Battle of the Bulge, he had not reckoned on GIs like Darago.

Seventy years ago, Darago, now 89, crept down a long, open hill with a loaded bazooka, figuring that he was going to die. He peeked over the top of a hedge and, at a distance of a few yards, fired at a German tank, disabling it.

He then scampered back up the hill under heavy fire. “We were in open territory,” he said. “You didn’t need a sharpshooter. Anybody with a gun could have killed us.”

He received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for valor, after the Medal of Honor.

Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, so called because of the bulge that the massive surprise German attack made on the Allied lines.

It was a full-scale, last-ditch assault by the German army on Hitler’s western front, five months before the war in Europe ended.

About 19,000 Americans were killed in the wintry, month-long battle, 47,500 were wounded, and 23,000 were captured or were reported missing in action.

German captives walk past a disabled tank as they are led into captivity by U.S. troops, on Jan. 25, 1945, north of Foy, Belgium, in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

German captives walk past a disabled tank as they are led into captivity by U.S. troops, on Jan. 25, 1945, north of Foy, Belgium, in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Tuesday at noon, the Friends of the National World War II Memorial is scheduled to host a wreath-laying at the memorial on the Mall.

Also Tuesday at noon, the National Archives is scheduled to air a 90-minute documentary on the battle in its downtown Washington William G. McGowan Theater.

In addition, the Archives has on display, among other artifacts from the battle, the proud holiday message U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe issued to his 101st Airborne Division troops besieged in the Belgian town of Bastogne on Christmas Eve, 1944.

Last week, “Al” Darago sat in an easy chair in his apartment in Parkeville, Md., with his medal framed on the wall above the piano, and said all he had done was help disrupt the Nazi timetable.

By December 1944, the Allies thought that Nazi Germany was near defeat. Allied armies had surged across France after the D-Day landings that June and had crossed into Germany in some places.

“We thought the war was about over,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial’s board. “We were caught by, I think, almost total surprise.”

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans attacked with more than 200,000 troops and hundreds of tanks along a 75-mile front through the rugged Ardennes forest in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The area, in part, was patrolled by relatively weak U.S. forces — green troops who had just arrived, and battle-weary soldiers who needed a rest, said National Archives senior curator Bruce Bustard, whose father fought in the battle.

For most of the green troops, “it was the first Christmas they’d been away from home,” said retired Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr., whose father commanded a tank battalion in the battle. “And there they were fighting to liberate Europe.”

As the German army overran U.S. defenses, they were met by pockets of stiff resistance, including some of which had hundreds of African American troops in the then-segregated Army.

The most famous resistance came from the 101st Airborne Division and other units in the Belgian crossroads village of Bastogne. When the Germans called on the beleaguered Americans there to surrender, their commander, McAuliffe, replied, “Nuts!”

But there were other stubborn American outposts, Bustard said, “small groups of U.S. soldiers who are delaying the German advance.”

“Maybe it’s a company,” he said. “Maybe its a squad of U.S. soldiers that held on to a crossroads for an extra 10 or 15 minutes.”

In Darago’s case, it was a guy or two with a bazooka — a shoulder-fired antitank weapon.

He had been part of his artillery gun’s loading team in the mobile 143d Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion. The gun fired a potent round that resembled a small missile, and it could be used against aircraft, tanks or troops.

American infantrymen of an armored division march on a snow-covered road southeast of Born, Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1945. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

American infantrymen of an armored division march on a snow-covered road southeast of Born, Belgium, on Jan. 22, 1945. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Dec. 19, 1944, his outfit was caught up in the fighting near a Belgian town called Stoumont, north of Bastogne and west of Malmedy, where German soldiers had executed American POWs two days earlier.

“We were coming into Stoumont,” Darago said. “They told us to unload the ammunition . . . and start digging foxholes, because the Germans are right down that hill and [would] be up here pretty soon.’”

As Darago dug and as the ground around was hit by enemy fire, he met a friend, Roland Seamon, then 19, from Shinniston, W.Va.

“He said, ‘Hey, Al, they’re looking for volunteers to go down this hill and knock this tank out. They’ve got a couple tanks down there. We should go down and knock them down,’ ” Darago recalled.

They approached a lieutenant and Durago asked, “What did you have in mind?” The officer explained, and Darago and Seamon volunteered.

They were given bazookas, a weapon Darago said he had never fired before. “I didn’t know the first thing about them,” he said.

The officer advised the two to fire into the tanks’ rear-engine compartment, according to a 1945 article about their deeds in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.

The bazookas were loaded, and the pair set off separately, Darago said.

There was no cover, and he headed down the hill under fire, according to his medal citation.

“I knew I was going to get it before I got down there, but God was with me,” he said.

At the bottom of the hill was a hedge. He stuck his weapon over it and spotted, not two but four German tanks backed up by infantry.

“I pulled the trigger,” he said. “And you never heard such a racket and noise when that thing hit. . . . I heard them hollering and screaming.”

He said he didn’t linger and ran back up the hill as German soldiers fired at him.

The lieutenant asked how he had done.

“I got a hit,” Darago said he responded. The officer said, “How about going down and making sure?”

With a reloaded weapon, he crept down the hill again, looked over the hedge and spotted his tank, apparently immobilized. He fired again and got another hit, and this time it caught fire.

Again, he escaped.

Seamon, who Darago said died several years ago, had similar success. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross, with its blue and red ribbon and cross and eagle medallion.

Last week, Darago,who has white hair and hearing aids, sat in the light of a reading lamp with his eyeglasses on a cord around his neck. His wife of 66 years, Dorothea, sat nearby.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t even think about it,” he said of volunteering for the task. “It was something that had to be done and we did it. . . . I never considered myself brave. . . . Somebody had to do it, and I was there.”

Failure Is Not An Option – Robert Smalls

1 02 2013

I ran across the story of Robert Smalls recently while reading The Washington Post.  I had never heard the story of this man, and his efforts to secure his freedom and take actions that were very much uncommon for an African American during the Civil War era.  Below, please find the article about Robert Smalls, written by Avis Thomas-Lester, and published in The Washington Post on March 2, 2012:

He sat at the conference table next to Frederick Douglass as they tried to convince President Abraham Lincoln that African Americans should be allowed to fight for their own freedom. He served five terms in Congress. He ran a newspaper and helped found a state Republican Party. But first, he had to win his freedom.

To do that, he conceived a plan that struck a blow against the Confederacy so significant that he was heralded across the nation. Carrying out his mission required bravery, intelligence and precision timing — attributes that many whites at that time thought blacks didn’t possess. Robert Smalls proved them wrong and changed history in the doing.

RobertSmalls pic1

Smalls was born in Beaufort, S.C., on April 5, 1839, the son of Lydia Polite, a slave who was a housekeeper in the city home of John McKee, owner of the Ashdale Plantation on Lady’s Island, one of the Sea Islands. Though he never knew the identity of his father, it was widely believed that Smalls was the progeny of McKee’s son, Henry.

“There was a distinctly fatherly relationship between [Henry McKee] and my great-grandfather,” said Helen Boulware Moore of Lakewood Ranch, Fla., who grew up hearing stories about Smalls from her grandmother, Elizabeth Lydia Smalls Bampfield, his daughter.

Growing up at the McKees’ place, Smalls played with both black and white children, ate food cooked in the kitchen where his mother worked and slept in a bed in a small house that was provided for her. Polite had been taken from her family on the island plantation at age 9 to work as a companion to the McKee children in Beaufort.

Because of his connection to Henry McKee, Smalls was allowed “to go places and do things others couldn’t do. That could cause problems with blacks . . . and could be a dangerous thing with whites, as well,” said Michael Allen of the National Park Service’s Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which runs through South Carolina.

The town of Beaufort maintained a 7 p.m. daily curfew for blacks, but on many occasions young Smalls ignored the bell and continued to play with white children. Several times, he was taken into custody. Henry McKee paid a fine to retrieve him, Moore said. When he was 10, his mother sent him to the plantation to learn the reality of slave life. He came back defiant, not willing to comply, as she had hoped.

“He acted as if he could do what the white children did, and that frightened her,” Moore said. “She wanted to educate him about the whole issue of slavery to save his life.”

Worried that her son would suffer consequences for his bold behavior, Polite asked McKee to rent out Smalls at age 12 to work in nearby Charleston. Each week, he was given $1 of his wages; the rest went to the McKees. He supplemented his income by purchasing cheap candy and tobacco and reselling them. At age 18, Smalls met Hannah Jones, an enslaved hotel worker who had two daughters. He sought permission to marry and live with her in an apartment in Charleston, Moore said.

“He was smart enough to know that at any moment, she and any children they had might be sold, so he asked her enslaver,” who agreed, Moore said.

Smalls became skilled at working on ships, eventually advancing to the position of pilot. In 1861, he was hired to work on a steamer called the Planter, which was used to transport cotton to ships headed to Europe. But once the Civil War started, the Confederates seized it for use as an armed transport vessel. Smalls knew how to navigate. He knew that the white crew trusted him. He had his eye on freedom, and all he needed was an opportunity.

“They were going to seize the ship,” said Lawrence Guyot, a black-history expert in Washington. “It was dangerous. It was daring. It was unprecedented. And when they accomplished it, it was used to demonstrate that blacks could be brave and strategic in pulling off military maneuvers. Because of what happened on the Planter, Abraham Lincoln decided to let African Americans join the fight in the Civil War.”

Moore, a retired professor, pointed out that “a lot is said about [Smalls’s] patriotism, but it was not simply patriotism that led him to act. His priority was his family.” Smalls had sought to purchase his wife, his two young children and his wife’s daughters, but the price of $800 was too steep.

In the early hours of May 13, 1862, the Planter’s crew took an unapproved furlough into town, leaving Smalls, 23, and several other black crew members aboard. Wearing a captain’s coat and hat and taking care to hide his black face, Smalls steered the ship toward a rendezvous spot to pick up the men’s families.

RobertSmalls pic3

“It was really dangerous because they were flying the Confederate flag,” Moore said. “They made a decision that they wouldn’t be taken alive. . . . If they had been caught, they were going to ignite the explosives and die on the ship.’” Through Charleston Harbor and past several Confederate lookouts, the ship steamed. Smalls signaled at the appropriate points, as he’d seen the captain do.

By dawn, the Planter had reached the federal blockade of the harbor. The crew lowered the Confederate flag and hoisted a white sheet that Hannah had brought from the hotel where she worked, Moore said.

“One of the most heroic and daring adventures since the war commenced was undertaken and successfully accomplished by a party of negroes in Charleston,” trumpeted the June 14, 1862, edition of Harper’s Weekly.

Commodore S.F. DuPont, the commander of the federal fleet barricading Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, wrote to the Department of the Army that Smalls provided information “of the utmost importance” to the Union, such as the location of mines he had helped lay in the harbor while working for the Confederacy, news accounts show.

“Somebody should make a movie about this guy,” said Frank Smith, founding director of the District’s African American Civil War Memorial Museum, which includes an exhibit about Smalls. “If you are looking for a heroic character, it would be hard to invent one with better qualifications than Robert Smalls.”

Smalls became a ship pilot for the Union, serving as a volunteer until he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Company B of the 33rd Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. He fought in 17 battles and is credited with recruiting 5,000 blacks. He was later designated a major general in the South Carolina militia.

In April 1865, Smalls returned to Beaufort and the McKee house, which he had purchased in a tax sale, using part of a $1,500 appropriation he received for taking the Planter. Back home, he was reunited with his mother — and one of his former owners.

“Mrs. McKee, after the war was over, came wandering to the house one day,” Moore said. “Because of her dementia, she didn’t realize the house was no longer hers. . . . Given her illness, Robert allowed her to stay.”

Smalls, who had learned to read and write while serving in the military, went into business and then politics. He served in both houses of the South Carolina Legislature and in 1874 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, beating a white Democrat in a district that was almost 70 percent black. (The 15th Amendment had given African Americans the vote in 1870.)

But his later years were plagued by racism as white-supremacist Democrats stepped up efforts to unseat Reconstruction legislators. He was accused of bribery but later cleared, historical accounts show. In his personal life, Smalls lost a son in infancy and Hannah in 1883. Seven years later, at the age of 51, he married Annie Wigg, who bore him a second son, William Robert. Annie died a few years later.

Smalls himself died in 1915 at what is now called the the Robert Smalls House, at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently for sale for $1.2 million. 

RobertSmalls pic2

Other structures and streets have been named for Smalls. The African American Museum in Philadelphia is currently displaying “The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls: A Traveling Exhibition.” The highest honor, though, was the commissioning in 2007 of the Maj. Gen. Robert Smalls, an Army logistics support vessel, in a ceremony at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor attended by several of his descendants. It is the only Army ship named for an African American.

Moore said Smalls’s direct descendants number about 75, the youngest of whom is her 3-month-old granddaughter, Maya Helen Jenkins. Moore’s son, Michael, 49, the chairman of Glory Foods, which sells Southern-style dishes, said his great-great-grandfather’s story is an inspiration for his four young sons, as it was for him. As a child, he said, he would search bookstores for books about Smalls.

“I didn’t think about Robert Smalls as history,” he said. “I thought of him as family.

“The thing that I’m proudest of is his mind-set that he was going to be free, when he had no rational or logical reason to think that he would be. It was all or nothing. I’m proud and intrigued by his moxie and audacity not only to think about freedom, but to conceive and execute a plan to make it happen.”






Failure Is Not An Option – John Sheardown

7 01 2013

Periodically, I like to feature background on individuals who exemplify the phrase “failure is not an option.”  Today, I am providing information written about John Sheardown, a Canadian diplomat who helped to save the lives of six Americans during the 1979 hostage taking event at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran.  The following article was published in The Washington Post on January 1, 2013.  The article was written by Adam Bernstein.

John Sheardown dies; Canadian diplomat sheltered Americans in Iran hostage crisis

John Sheardown, an unflappable Canadian diplomat in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis who helped shelter six American “house guests” until they were secretly shuttled out of the country, died Dec. 30 at a hospital in Ottawa. He was 88. He had Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife, Zena Sheardown.

In the events that became known as the “Canadian Caper,” Mr. Sheardown was serving officially as the top immigration official at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran. Recounting the 1979 ordeal, historian Robert Wright wrote that the portly, ruddy-faced Mr. Sheardown “exuded the sort of quiet but unyielding resolve that made him a natural leader in a crisis.”

Iran, Hostage Taking, 1979The strife began when an Iranian mob seized the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, and took 52 Americans hostage in retaliation for Western support for the recently deposed shah. As was retold in the Ben Affleck film “Argo” (2012), six Americans managed to evade the hostage takers.

Mr. Sheardown became a vital — but necessarily discreet — point of contact for the desperate Americans seeking sanctuary. When the mission proved successful, he was often overshadowed in the public imagination by more prominent government officials.

He figured in a 1981 Canadian television film, “Escape from Iran,” and later in books as a loyal and daring supporting player. More noticeably featured were Canadian officials including Prime Minister Joseph Clark, Foreign Minister Flora MacDonald and Ken Taylor, the gregarious ambassador to Iran lauded by Time magazine as the rescue plot’s “mastermind and instant hero.”

Most recently, Victor Garber portrayed Taylor in “Argo.” Mr. Sheardown was not a character in the film. But as Kathleen Stafford, one of the American “house guests,” recalled in an interview Tuesday, Mr. Sheardown was “a lifesaver” at a time when she and her colleagues feared for their safety.

In the days after the U.S. Embassy takeover, the six fugitive Americans assumed that the turmoil would subside quickly. They hid in the homes of their abducted colleagues and spent brief periods in other embassies, but tensions continued to build in the city and their security became ever more precarious. John Sheardown

Robert Anders, another of the American diplomats seeking haven, knew Mr. Sheardown and called him to request official protection.

“Why didn’t you call sooner?” Mr. Sheardown replied.

Five of the six Americans arranged passage to the Sheardown residence in the suburbs north of Tehran and arrived on Nov. 10. Mr. Sheardown, who had helped obtain permission from Ottawa, phoned Taylor to say that the “house guests” had arrived. They were soon followed by the sixth American, Henry Lee Schatz, who had been hiding at the Swedish Embassy.

The Taylors took Stafford and her husband, Joseph. The other four — Anders, Schatz, and Mark and Cora Lijek — remained with the Sheardowns.

“We were under surveillance,” Mr. Sheardown once told an interviewer. “We had tanks at one end of the street and a fellow that walked up and down. They were always suspicious.”

During the two months they quartered the Americans, the Sheardowns took creative precautions to avoid tipping off the authorities. To feed the extra mouths — especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas — they bought groceries at different stores to disguise the amount of food consumed at the home.

Mr. Sheardown took garbage with him on the route to work, to camouflage the amount of refuse they were generating. The CIA arranged preparations for the Americans’ departure, which became urgent as the Iranians erected roadblocks around the city and rumors of the house guests spread among Western media.On Jan. 28, 1980, the six Americans were spirited out of the country with fake Canadian passports and disguised as members of a Hollywood film crew. Schatz once told The Washington Post that his suitcase had been stuffed with strategic items, including a T-shirt advertising Canada’s Molson Ale.

Soon afterward, the Sheardowns also left the country. The remaining American captives from the embassy were held in Iranian custody for almost another year — until Jan. 21, 1981, after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president.

John Vernon Sheardown was born in Sandwich, now part of Windsor, Ontario, on Oct. 11, 1924. At 18, he joined the Canadian air force and served in Europe during World War II. He once broke both legs after jumping from a plane at low altitude on a training mission over England.

After the war, Mr. Sheardown spent several years in the Canadian army before joining the immigration service in the early 1960s and later the foreign service. He retired by the early 1990s.

His first marriage, to Kathleen Benson, ended in divorce. In 1975, he married Zena Khan. Besides his wife, of Ottawa, survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Robin Sheardown and John Sheardown Jr.; two sisters; and six grandchildren. A daughter from his first marriage, Jackie Hunter, died in 2007.

John and Zena Sheardown, 2010

In the aftermath of the Iranian crisis, Taylor and Mr. Sheardown received the Order of Canada, one of their country’s highest civilian honors. Mr. Sheardown waged a public and ultimately successful campaign to recognize his wife with the same award. Patricia Taylor, the ambassador’s wife, also received the prize.

“The men went to the office every day,” Mr. Sheardown told the New York Times in 1981. “The wives had a 24-hour responsibility. What we did was a normal extension of our functions. What they did was extraordinary.”

John Sheardown was clearly a humble man who did not have any problem doing the right thing when called upon to act.  He is a hero by any definition.  His service to his country was distinguished and when called upon to assist the Americans; his response was not hesitation, but “why did you wait to call me?”  An unsung hero— even when they made a movie about the events of that time; he was not mentioned.  Poetic license I suppose.  But, I am glad he was around in 1979 and 1980 to aid those who needed help at that critical time.

Failure Is Not An Option – Joe Toye

13 07 2012

Periodically, I like to feature background on individuals who exemplify the phrase “failure is not an option.”  Today, I am providing information written by Marcus Brotherton. It originally ran on Men Who Lead Well ( I first viewed the article on the website “The Art of Manliness.”

How many times have we hoped for a specific type of success, only to have it elude us? We dream of being an Olympic sprinter, a prize-winning surgeon, or a writer of the great American novel.

But try as we might, the specific type of success we long for never comes.

Sgt. Joe Toye, one of the original Band of Brothers, fit this profile. The hardscrabble son of an Irish coalminer, Toye was a promising athlete, excelling at both boxing and football. But Toye’s father died when Toye was in 7th grade, and Toye needed to drop out of school, go to work, and help feed the rest of the family.

He would never become a professional athlete. That dream was dead.

When WWII hit, Toye volunteered for the elite paratroopers and became a squad leader, a go-to organizer who always got the job done. He dreamed of a long-term career in the military, and he was just the type of man the Army was looking for.

Whenever the company commander needed a volunteer, Toye was first on the list. Volunteering for these missions required extreme bravery, but when called, Toye never hesitated.

Once, his company was pinned down in ditches outside Neunen, Holland. Their British tank support was being annihilated. The commander needed to find out what he was up against. He looked around, spotted Toye, and said, “Joe, I need a live prisoner.” Wordlessly, Toye left his squad, crept into no-man’s land, and came back with a prisoner from the 107th Panzer Brigade.

Everything changed one wintery day in Bastogne. During a barrage of intense shelling, Toye was hit badly. He was evacuated to a hospital in London where his leg was amputated below the knee.

His military career was over. Another dream was dead.

After Toye came home, life was never the same. Toye was a big-hearted family man, but he also floundered in life. He drank too much. He fought. He struggled with nightmares from the war. He divorced and remarried. He drew some disability because of his missing leg, but not enough to support a family. He found work sharpening bits in a steel mine, where he stayed for more than 20 years until he retired.

Once, Toye remarked to his son that he didn’t feel like he had done much with his life. None of his dreams had ever come to pass.

Along the way, however, something unforeseen began to unfold.

Toye’s youngest son, Jonathan, was born with a severe birth defect. The son was mentally handicapped and couldn’t walk, talk, or feed himself. The boy’s condition hit Toye hard. There was no way a working family could care for the boy on a daily basis, so the son was placed in a home for special needs children, about an hour away from where the Toyes lived. Toye tried hard. He visited his son every chance he could.

After Toye retired from the steel mill, his handicapped son became everything. Each day, Toye spent hours with Jonathan, feeding him, cleaning his messes, talking with him, telling him he was proud of him.

Caring for his son became Toye’s life.

Jonathan wasn’t supposed to live much longer than childhood, but Jonathan had tough blood in him. Years passed. Toward the end, Toye’s goal became simply to outlive his son.

Jonathan died at age 32, three times longer than anyone thought he would live.

A year and a half after his son died, Joe Toye died too.

How strange: although we strive for a specific kind of success, it may never come. Instead, unexpected opportunities appear in our lives. Call these chances for unimagined greatness. Windows for living well.

“The point of life is not to just get by,” wrote St. Paul of Tarsus. “We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.”

Using that criterion, I’d say Joe Toye was a tremendous success.

Failure is Not an Option – Darrell Powers

15 03 2011

Staff Sergeant Darrell C. Powers “Shifty” was a non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.  Powers was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Peter Youngblood Hills.  The 2011 book Shifty’s War, by journalist Marcus Brotherton, captures Sergeant Powers’ full life story.

Powers was born in Clinchco, Dickenson County, Virginia and volunteered for the paratroopers with his good friend, Robert “Popeye” Wynn. Shifty spent a great deal of time in the outdoors hunting game prior to joining the service.  This later proved useful as many of the skills he obtained helped him as a soldier. He graduated from high school.  Powers enlisted on August 14, 1942 at Richmond, Virginia.

Powers jumped into Normandy on D-Day, missing his drop zone. He eventually came in contact with Floyd Talbert and the two made their way to Easy Company. He also participated in the Allied military operation Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, and the Battle of the Bulge in Foy, Belgium. While in Foy, a German sniper shot three members of Easy Company, and everyone hid for cover.  With the aid of C. Carwood Lipton, Shifty made a heroic attempt and silenced the German with his M1 right between the eyes.  Company members say Powers saved many lives that day.  He was generally considered to be the best shot in Easy Company. One of his most truly remarkable achievements, and a testament to the extraordinary gifts his backwoods upbringing brought to Easy Company, was the story documented in the Ambrose book, Band of Brothers, about the time in Bastogne when Shifty mentioned to his commanding officer that he noticed a tree in the distant forest that was not there just the day before. The “tree” was ultimately discovered to be a camouflaged German artillery piece. Were it not for Shifty’s keen observations and outdoors experiences, many lives may have been lost, had that enemy weapon not been spotted from a distance of nearly a mile away and amongst a literal forest of other trees.

Because many men serving in the 101st lacked the minimum points required to return home, a lottery was put in place.  Shifty Powers won this lottery after the rest of the company rigged it in his favor by removing their own names, and was set to return stateside.  During the trip to the airfield, the vehicle that Shifty was in was involved in an accident and he was badly injured.  He spent many months recuperating in hospitals overseas while his comrades in arms arrived home long before he did.

Powers was awarded many medals and decorations including Bronze Star with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Presidential Unit Citation with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 service stars and arrown device, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Croix de guerre with palm, French Liberation Medal, Belgian World War II Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Parachutist Badge with 2 jump stars.

Honorably discharged from the Army in the postwar demobilization, he became a machinist for the Clinchfield Coal Corporation.  Powers died on June 17, 2009 of cancer in Dickenson County, Virginia.  He was 86 years old at the time of his death.

The above information was found from Wikipedia.  The information below is from a June 20, 2009, article about Power’s death.  The article below was written by Roger Brown, Bristol Herald Courier.

Band Of Brothers Hero, Darrell ‘Shifty’ Powers Dies

“The world depended on them. They depended on each other.”

That was the tagline for “Band of Brothers” – an award-winning 2001 HBO mini-series drama on the World War II experiences of Easy Company, a U.S. Army unit that fought bravely and fiercely across Europe.

But for Bristol’s Margo Johnson – daughter of Darrell “Shifty” Powers, one of the soldiers depicted in “Band of Brothers” – two more lines could be added to describe her heroic father: “The world truly admired Darrell Powers. I absolutely adored him.”

“I loved everything about my daddy,” Johnson said. “He never bragged about what he did in the war. And for a lot of years, he never even talked much about what he did – unless someone asked him about it.

“But he truly was a hero to me,” Johnson said. “Just like he’d been to the people who know him as a soldier in a [mini-series].”

Powers, a Dickenson County native, died earlier this week at age 86 following a battle with cancer. His funeral service will be held today in Clintwood.

“He was a brave man, even to the end of his life,” Johnson said of her father. “He’s helping me be brave now, too.”

Bravery – and dignity – was a constant, running thread in the life of “Shifty” Powers, both during and after his life as an Army sharpshooter in the actual “Band of Brothers.”

During the war, he fought brutal battles against the German army across France and Belgium.

After the war, Powers served as an eloquent representative for the men he fought with: At one point during the “Band of Brothers” mini-series, he appeared on camera to talk in moving, humane fashion about his grim but necessary task during the war – killing the enemy.

And, too, Powers served as a loyal, steadfast representative for the country he fought for: from graciously meeting with a former enemy German soldier to eagerly accepting any chance to speak with modern-day members of the U.S. military.

Ivan Schwarz, a producer on the “Band of Brothers” HBO series, remembers Powers as a “kind, generous soul with a great sense of humor.”

“Shifty was an incredibly humble human being,” said Schwarz, now executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission in Cleveland, Ohio.

“He was like most of the other [Easy Company] soldiers we met for the series. They were good guys who were kind of shocked that, 50 years later, people were making a big deal over them for just doing their duty.

“That’s exactly how [Powers] was, too,” Schwarz said.

Attempts were unsuccessful to reach Peter Youngblood Hills – the English actor who portrayed Powers in the “Band of Brothers” miniseries, through both HBO and his former publicity firm, Hamilton Hodell in London, England.

Failure is Not an Option – Franz Steigler

17 05 2009

Franz Steigler, jpgCharlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called ‘Ye Old Pub’ and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton. 

After flying the B-17 over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he ‘had never seen a plane in such a bad state’. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage.  The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere. 

Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.

Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe.  When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it. 

More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved the crew. After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.

They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now – all because Franz never fired his guns that day.  

When asked why he didn’t shoot them down, Stigler later said, “I didn’t have the heart to finish those brave men.  I flew beside them for a long time.  They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do that.  I could not have shot at them.  It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute.” 

Both men died in 2008.

Failure is Not an Option – Ed Freeman

10 04 2009

ed-freemanEd Freeman passed away at the age of 80 on August 29, 2008 and was honored with obituaries in newspapers across the country.   In March 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution designating the U.S. Postal Service facility, located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office.”  McLain was the hometown of Freeman, a veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

In July 2001, some 36 years after the fact, Freeman, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, had been awarded the nation’s highest military honor for actions taken on November 14, 1965. The citation, presented by President Bush in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, read as follows:

Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November, 1965, while serving with Company A, 229th, Assault Helicopter Battalion, First Cavalry Division Air Mobil (ph).

As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at landing zone X-ray in the Idrang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The infantry unit was almost out of ammunition, after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force.

When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone, due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire, time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the Paceeds (ph) battalion.

His flights had a direct impact on the battle’s outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival without which they would almost surely have experienced a much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area, due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life- saving evacuation of an estimates 30 seriously wounded soldiers, some of whom would not have survived, had he not acted.

All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman’s selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers.

Captain Freeman’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

For additional information about Ed Freeman: