09 January 2013

Shifty Powers & how we treat our REAL Heroes

So the oft carried, always miss attributed, Shifty Powers letter is making the rounds again on Facebook.  It got me to thinking.  Sadly, Darrell Powers (aka Shifty) passed in 2009, right before we PCSd back to the states.  I know we got coverage on AFN in Europe, but I doubt there was much coverage in the states - it isn't like the man was a genuine HERO (at least according to the garbage they show on US tv).

I remember, late May 2002, waiting to board a plane in Dallas.  We were flying out to our next duty station in England.  There was a mild kerfuffle at the x-ray & security station.  I thought nothing of it really, until I realized the hold up was an elderly gentleman & his wife.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out why he was being held up, he clearly did not pose any threat to anyone.

I was busy getting an infant, a young child, myself & the husband through security so I wasn't paying that much attention.  Until I caught the emblem on his hat.  It was just a standard dark blue, military retiree style, baseball cap.  I had made a mental note to tell him "Thank You" for your service when I realized it was a retiree, but that emblem.  It troubled me.  I KNEW it, but it was rare to see.  I honestly had to think about it for a few moments before I placed it.  That was a very rare, very seldom seen, very important emblem.

That is, for those who may not know, a Congressional Medal of Honor ribbon.  That was the ribbon on his hat!  When it hit me what it was, I was in genuine awe.  That is not a medal often seen, and it was awarded for going well above the call of duty to his nation.  It made me that much more determined to give him a proper thanks for his service, and hopefully find out a little bit about him.

I got a moment to speak to him while we were waiting to board early.  He was accepted for early boarding, I assume, due to his age.  We got early boarded due to the kids.  I was just glad we managed to be right behind him in line so I could chat with him.

Turns out he served on the European front, and was captured by the Germans.  He didn't go into much, but I mentioned my great-grandfather was a POW of the Japanese (he was), and was rescued from Cabanatuan.  This gentleman, I never caught his name he was very polite but not at all in to talking about his exploits, made a point of saying he endured nothing compared to what the Japanese did to their POWs.  That, to the great granddaughter of a man who lived it, is belittling his own experiences.  The Germans weren't nice to POWs, they didn't obey the rules of war, they blocked the Red Cross just as much.  This man went hungry, was cold, was mistreated, had suffered in the name of his fellow countrymen & women to protect them from his very pain.  He was, and IS, an hero.  He came when called, he offered his life blood to his nation to protect & defend those he loved.  That is no small feat.  This man, who had fought for his country while a young man, didn't think himself worthy of what my great-grandfather went through.  It nearly broke my heart for him to think he didn't really do anything worthy of the praise he received.

He went on to mention that he didn't endure nearly what those that didn't come home did.  The mark of a truly humble, honest, quiet servant of his nation & people.  He discounted his own trauma, his own suffering, as not up to that which others endured.  I had no real response to that, other than he served his nation where & when he was needed and he shouldn't think that his experiences weren't important.

I happened to ask what the hold up was at the security line.  I was being nosy, I admit it.  It turns out he was flying with THE MEDAL in his carry-on bag.  Yes, THAT medal.  The highest honor his nation's military could bestow on him (or anyone for that matter) for his military service.  He offered to get it out & show it to me, but he was already being much more than polite by having a chat with me so I didn't put him out in any way.  Yes I'd have LOVED to see it, but then I'd have wanted to touch it and well, that's just rude!

The reason THE MEDAL was in his carry on?  I shouldn't have to explain that one.  The fact that it was is what had caused the kerfuffle.  Apparently security made him put it through the x-ray machine!  Then demanded he open it as it was metal & it seems they though it was a "threat" to security.  Not a "thank you sir, for your service". Not an awed silence at seeing one, and the man who earned it.  Just total ignorance of WHAT it was, and WHY he had it.  That, well even now I admit flabbergasts me!  How far the US has fallen that a real, genuine, CMOH award recipient & his CMOH were unknown, and instead viewed as a security threat!

This quiet, unassuming man who should have had parades in his honor, was a "threat" as deemed by the security folks at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  As a Texan, I was doubly humiliated and offended that this man was ill treated.  He bore it with quiet dignity, answering their questions about himself & the medal.  He bore my questions & chat with dignity.  All I had to offer to him in return was a mere, meager, "thank you".  I'm sure he'd had that before, and I pray he had it since, but I was honored to be in his presence & to have the ability to offer such a thanks.

We boarded the plane, and as we always keep the kiddos on until last to avoid the crush to get off, I didn't get to speak to him again.  I never did catch his name, and never really knew enough of his service to find him on the Congressional Medal of Honor Society site.  Sadly I don't know if he is still living or if he has since passed.  What I do know is that for one fleeting moment in time, I stood beside & chatted with, a REAL hero.  I know that one of the, still giving, gifts of his service & his life is my thankfulness for the smallest moment to speak to him.  To offer to him the true thanks of myself, for everything he endured.

I never got to meet my great-grandfather, he passed long before my birth, but I did get to meet a man who bore arms at the same time he did.  Maybe a different theater, a different version of the same nasty enemy of freedom, but a man of quiet honor none the less.  I hope he knew just how much it meant to me to get to speak to him, to get to offer him a humble, simple thanks.
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