Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rest easy, gentlemen

(Via Timebomb 2000)

When I was growing up, it was a simple fact of life--I was surrounded by veterans of World War II. If a man was of a certain age, it always struck as unusual if he wasn't a veteran of the war. Unlike a lot of men, my Dad was not unduly scarred by his experiences with the 9th Armored Division, and has always told the "funny stories" that came home with him from the war. As years passed and I got older, he talked of the uglier side in a very matter of fact way.

Today, the 16,000,000 men and women who served during that conflict are dying off, leaving us at the rate of over 1,000 per day. In recent days, I've seen two pass on, men who have had an effect on my life, even though I never met either one.

The first (that I heard of) was Ed McMahon. For me, he's always been the jovial sidekick of Johnny Carson. I started watching that show in my late teens, and watched it as often as I could up until the last show. Both men were utter class acts. My sense of humor was largely influenced by these men, while my admiration for the luminaries of their generation (Bob Hope, Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Maureen O'Hara and so many more) was enhanced by a constant exposure to them in genial conversation. I also don't think it's a stretch to say that the "Carson Show" has absolutely ruined me in terms of being able to watch any of the current crop of TV talk shows. Funny and erudite at the same time, they set a standard that none have matched.

But one that I think hurts me more is the death of one of the Band of Brothers--Sgt. Darrell "Shifty" Powers. Watching him in the documentary on Easy Company, I was stuck by two things--the soft Virginia accent and his humble manner as he spoke of his service and his friends. His stories were so much like my Dad's, told in the same simple, straight-forward way. And, as from so many who served in that war, the ever present quote: "I'm not a hero; the real heroes never came home."

Also, like my Dad, when the war was over he came home, married, raised a family, worked, and lead a "normal life". Not until the book Band of Brothers came out did any of us know the name Shifty Powers.

But those of us of a certain age all knew the men, and never realized how privileged we were to be raised by heroes.

(Here's another story on the passing of Shifty Powers.)

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