The “We Are The Mighty” website reported on November 5, 2021, that Col. Edward Shames, the last surviving officer of the renowned WWI Army unit Easy Company of the 2nd Bn., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, had died. Easy Company’s story was the focus of the HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers.”
As reported in “We Are The Mighty,” Shames was born in Norfolk, VA, on June 13th, 1922. At the age of 20, in August of 1942, he joined the United States Army and volunteered to be a part of the newly formed parachute infantry. He was a particularly skilled individual who also demonstrated some clear leadership skills while in training at Toccoa, GA, as a private with Item Co., 3rd Bn., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
When the 101st was sent to England, Pvt. Shames was promoted to Operations Sergeant and was instrumental in making physical mock-ups on sand tables of Normandy that were then used by his fellow parachute infantry soldiers to study the terrain they would be going into.
While still with Item Co., 3rd Bn, Shames experienced his first actual combat jump on D-Day. A week later, he was given a battlefield promotion to 2nd Lt. Though the story on the “We Are The Mighty” site does not tell why or what it was based on, one can imagine that his already-recognized leadership and tactical skills had been proven by his personal conduct in battle during that first week of combat at Normandy.
During Operation Market Garden, he was transferred to Easy Company and was placed in command of that company’s 3rd Platoon. This is where the story takes on the qualities that would eventually bring fame to Easy Company. During Operation Pegasus, Shames volunteered his Easy Co. unit to help rescue a group of British parachutists who were stranded and surrounded by German forces. The rescue was a success. Though Shames was wounded in the left leg, he would recover and later participate with Easy Co. in the Battle of the Bulge. At a place called Foy, Shames and a sergeant from Easy Co., Sgt. Paul Rogers, maneuvered themselves into a position under fire and took out a German Panzer Tank with a bazooka.
Apparently, Shames had a complex personality. He had a reputation for always talking loudly and for being stubborn in nature. He is said to have held his men and himself to very high standards, and that shaped the nature of Easy Company. Though he was a bit brash, he was much respected by those who served under him.
Close to the end of the war, when many of the German death camps were being liberated, Shames would be the first of the 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles” to enter the recently liberated death camp at Dachau. Shames was part Jewish, and he was deeply affected by this experience.
After the Germans surrendered, Lt. Shames and his Easy Company troopers were assigned the duty of securing Hitler’s famous mountain retreat in the Alps, called “The Eagle’s Nest.” According to the “We Are The Mighty” story, while doing this, Shames and the men of Easy Co. came across several cases of cognac that were labeled “For the Fuhrer only.” In typical GI fashion, Shames and his men “confiscated” a few of those bottles for themselves. After going home from the war, Shames, in an ironic, nose-thumbing gesture, would open one of those purloined bottles of cognac to make a toast at his son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Shames would stay in the Army Reserve after the war while working for the National Security Agency, where he would become an expert in Middle Eastern Affairs. He would retire as a Colonel after 30 years of service.
Col. Edward Shames died this past Friday, December 3, 2021, at the noble age of 99. He was the last surviving Easy Co. officer.
The Veterans Site honors the service, courage, and dedication to duty that Col. Edward Shames modeled, both in war and in peace over his long and distinguished career. We send our profound respect and our sympathy to his family at this time. May he rest in peace.Whizzco