WWII vet to sign book about experiences

Published 11:50 am Saturday, June 11, 2016

Col. Edward D. Shames remembers that Duke Ellington and his band were playing on the radio when a bulletin interrupted with the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese. At that moment on Dec. 7, 1941, he and his buddies knew they had to return to the United States from where they were in Hamilton, Ontario. From then on, the 19-year-old Shames was headed to destiny with war.

Now at 93 years old — on Monday he’ll be 94 (“I’m older than dirt!”) — Shames will be one of two authors appearing at The Peanut Patch in Courtland on Saturday, June 18. He’ll be coming to sign copies of “Airborne: The Combat Story of Ed Shames of Easy Company,” which was written by Ian Gardener; they’ve collaborated on other books about World War II.

Speaking from his home in Virginia Beach, Shames said he’s not personally profited from any book sales. Instead, what would be his share goes to the Wounded Warriors Fund.

Asked to share a few experiences recorded in the book, Shames said that at the time of signing up,

“I was patriotic like most folks in my category. I love my country and I love what I was doing.”

But he never felt self-conscious about his part.

“No, no, no. I wanted to be a very good soldier,” said Shames. “I was anxious to get ahead. Be promoted. I wanted to be an officer. I had no choice at the time but to go along with the thousands [of other men]. I volunteered.”

Following basic training in Georgia, he became part of the 506th PIR and was stationed in the European Theatre of the war. Shames and company saw action in major battles ranging from D-Day with the 101st Airborne Division to Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands and also the Battle of the Bulge.

“I know I’ve had as much combat as any other soldier in the army. Seventy-two straight days in Holland,” he mentioned.

In all that time, Shames endured only three injuries.

“Thank God not killers. I’m very lucky. Skilled, too.”

Two things in particular make Shames proud: He got his first battlefield commission in Normandy, and that he brought more men home from his platoon than others. “We were trained well.”

Shames told his men that he didn’t come to be loved, but to earn their respect and keep all of them alive. “We did.”

In their adventures, Easy Company got to Eagle’s Nest, which was Adolf Hitler’s retreat high in the mountain of Germany.

“It was very ornate. Top of the line. A six-star hotel,” Shames said.

Perhaps the most chilling and longest-lasting of his experiences was the trip into the infamous work camp of Dachau.

“We were at one of the sub-camps the day before, and saw the walking skeletons. We were told to find the other place. … I see it every night of my life. I can’t get rid of it.”

The experiences of Shames and his crew became the basis of the television series, “Band of Brothers.” But he dismissed that as “All Hollywood. It was strictly inaccurate in all phases, but a good story. It was a good novel, and brought attention to the fact that there was a World War II.”

Shames considers the book that Gardner wrote as being one of the best to give readers an idea of what he and others endured, but “I’m sure there are a few others of them that are fairly accurate.”

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Shames will be at The Peanut Patch, 27478 Southampton Parkway. Call 653-2028 for more information.