On December 19, 1944, the 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, along with most of the 101st Airborne Division entered the line near a previously unknown small town in Belgium called Bastogne which was nestled in the vast green emptiness of the Ardennes Forrest.
The Germans had attacked with surprising force- new Panzer divisions that the Allied command did not think existed. The Allied troops on the front lines were a mixture of new-green troops, and wizened veterans mostly in the armored divisions under General Patton's command of the Third Army.
As Allied forces fell back on all fronts, there was the real possibility that Germany would recapture the port at Antwerp, cutting off a vital supply line and allowing the Germans to sue for peace so they could turn their attention to Stalin's massive red army plowing through eastern Europe on its way to Berlin.
Into this gap-called a "Bulge" General Eisenhower threw his most experienced troops who were able to mobilize quickly and engage the enemy- the Airborne.
As members of the 101st walked into Bastogne- (they called it a truck jump because they were trunked into battle and "jumped" from the back of trucks driven mostly by African-American transport drivers in the segregated Army)- they encountered panicked soldiers running for their lives dropping their weapons and ammo along the way. The Paratroopers- wearing only their summer battle fatigues and boots without warm socks and without sufficient ammo- stopped to pick up the discarded rifles and ammo as they walked into battle in what was going to be the coldest European winter in 100 years. Among these troops was Easy Company of the 506th PIR. Author Stephen Ambrose in his book "Band of Brothers" that chronicled their exploits wrote of Easy Company of the 506th: "At the peak of its effectiveness in Holland in October 1944 and in the Ardennes in January 1945, it was as good a rifle company as there was in the world."
Easy and the rest of the 506th and the 101st moved into the gap, formed a semi-circle of defense and the Germans swarmed around them, causing a paratrooper to remark "They have us surrounded, the poor bastards." On the 19th and 20th of December, 1944, the Germans attacked at Noville, northeast of Foy with their 2nd Panzer division. Paratroopers who had dug into frozen ground defended the attack, with the 1st Battalion of the 506th losing 212 of 600 men, while inflicting upwards of 1000 casualties and along with some US armor destroying over thirty Panzers and holding the line.
On December 21, the temperature dropped to zero and it began to snow and did not stop. Easy Company had no wool socks, no long underwear. Cooks sent up used burlap sacks that the men made into clothing.
The Germans continued their relentless attack at all hours of the days and bone chilling nights. And the paratroopers using rifles, mortars and grenades repulsed the armored attacks again and again, refusing to give ground. Three times the men of the 101st met in combat the best the German Army had- On D-Day in Normandy, in Holland during operation Market Garden, and in the Ardennes Forrest in the winter of 1944-45. And three times the men of the 101st prevailed. They were, are, and always will be America's Finest.
Among those men was private Darrell "Shifty" Powers, a simple young man raised with his rifle shooting in the woods of Virginia. Shifty was blessed with almost super-human eyesight. He was the most accurate rifleman in Easy Company. As recounted by Ambrose in his book, on the morning of December 29, Shifty awoke in his foxhole and saw without binoculars- about two kilometers away no less- that "there was a tree up there toward Norville that wasn't there yesterday." He reported his findings to his sergeant who using binoculars couldn't see anything unusual among a large grouping of trees. How could Shifty know one of the dozen of trees was out of place? After several minutes of observation the sergeant finally saw the barrel of an anticraft gun, and then another, and then another. The Germans has moved an artillery battalion over the night and placed a tree to camouflage their guns, but Shifty had recognized something amiss. An artillery strike was called in and the area erupted as the German guns and shells went up in flames.
On January 13, 1945, when Easy was attacking Foy, the company was pinned down by a sniper. No one could see him in the thick woods surrounding the town. Eventually Shifty fired his rifle and the shooting stopped. Later the company located the sniper with a bullet hole between his eyes, causing one of his friends to later remark "It just doesn't pay to be shootin at Shifty when he has a rifle in his hands."
Darrell Shifty Powers. March 3, 1923- June 17, 2009. A child of the depression. A young man at war. Married for 60 years after the war, he raised a family as a machinist before retiring. A citizen-solider. A true American Hero.
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