Edward D. Shames: “A World War II paratrooper whose exploits were recounted in ‘Band of Brothers'”

From a New York Times obit by Richard Goldstein headlined “Edward D. Shames, Last Living ‘Band of Brothers’ Officer, Dies at 99”:

Edward D. Shames, the last surviving officer of the World War II paratrooper company whose exploits were recounted in the best-selling book and subsequent mini-series “Band of Brothers,” died on Dec. 3 at his home in Virginia Beach….

Mr. Shames’s Easy Company, Second Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division parachuted behind Utah Beach in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It fought the Germans in France, jumped into the German-occupied Netherlands in Operation Market Garden and held off Hitler’s troops in their prolonged siege of the Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

When the Germans surrendered in May 1945, Easy Company had reached Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s abandoned mountain retreat near the Austrian border.

The historian Stephen E. Ambrose interviewed veterans of Easy Company for his book “Band of Brothers” (1992). He took the book’s title from Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” in which the king, in a St. Crispin’s Day oration, seeks to inspire his troops to defeat the French in the battle of Agincourt:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/Shall be my brother. …”

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg created the 10-part mini-series “Band of Brothers,” based on Mr. Ambrose’s book, which was seen on HBO in 2001. Mr. Shames was portrayed by the British actor Joseph May.

Edward David Shames was born on June 13, 1922, in Norfolk, Va….He joined the Army late in 1942 and volunteered for service in the paratroopers.

Entering combat as a sergeant with Easy Company, he was among its many paratroopers who found themselves scattered and lost upon hitting the ground behind Utah Beach before dawn on D-Day.

“I landed in a bunch of cows in a barn,” he recalled in a July 2021 interview with the American Veterans Center. “I had no idea where I was.”

He rounded up his men and found a farmhouse. The farmer didn’t speak English and he didn’t speak French, but he took out his maps and, through the farmer’s gestures, found that he was in the town of Carentan, some five miles from a bridge where he was supposed to have touched down. When he got there with his men, he received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant for his resourcefulness.

Lieutenant Shames’s company entered the Dachau concentration camp in Germany a few days after it was liberated by American troops in April 1945.

In “Airborne: The Combat Story of Ed Shames of Easy Company” (2015), written with Ian Gardner, Mr. Shames, in one of many recollections in the book, told of the battlefield carnage he had encountered. But Mr. Shames, who was Jewish, struggled to find words for what he had seen at Dachau.

“The stench and horror of that place will live with me as long I live,” he wrote. “Now, 70 years later, I’d like to tell you more, but it’s buried so deep in my soul that I don’t think the rest of the story can ever come out.”

After the war, Mr. Shames worked for the National Security Agency as a specialist in Middle East affairs….

When Easy Company reached Eagle’s Nest, it found five Mercedes limousines that had evidently been reserved for Hitler or his aides. Lieutenant Shames took a joy ride of sorts around the retreat. But there was more celebrating to come.

As he told it in his 2021 interview, he found “two bottles of cognac labeled ‘for the Führer’s use only.’” He kept one for himself and saved the other for Col. Robert F. Sink, the commander of his regiment.

Lieutenant Shames took his bottle home as a war souvenir and eventually put it to good use at a milestone moment for his eldest son.

“At Steven’s bar mitzvah,” he recalled, “I decided to open it up and drink it.”


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