Senior Historian Chris Anderson shares his memories of Colonel Ed Shames of Easy Company who recently passed away.
Memories of Ed Shames
by Chris Anderson, Senior Historian
Earlier this month I was saddened to hear that 99-year-old Colonel Ed Shames had died. His passing was widely covered, and friends from around the world were sending me obituaries from newspapers in their various hometowns.
At the time of the announcement, the office asked if I could prepare a short obituary for the Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours newsletter marking Colonel Shames passing. Unfortunately, I was in the throes of preparing for our Battle of the Bulge trip when I received word and felt badly that I couldn’t get anything written on time. Shames’ death however, was certainly on my mind as I stood with my group outside Foy recently and spoke with them about the men of Easy Company, particularly those from the Third Platoon who I was closest to. As soon as I got back home to London I asked if I could post something, belatedly, about my memories of Shames.
Understandably, the news coverage surrounding Shames focused primarily on his role in Easy Company. For me, however, my most important memories of the colonel are the stories he told me about his time before joining Easy Company. I vividly remember reunions at Toccoa where he would speak to me with great passion and emotion about his time with I Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and then Headquarters 3rd Battalion.
Born in Virginia, as a teenager Shames’ mother gave him a compass and hiking map for his birthday. This gift fed a youthful fascination for the outdoors that would stand Shames in good stead after joining the parachute troops. An early volunteer for the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, it was because of his youthful knowledge of map-reading and topography that Shames eventually came to the attention of Lt. Col. Robert Wolverton, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry. Wolverton transferred Shames from I Company to battalion headquarters where he was assigned, among other things, to teach map reading skills in the battalion and where he learned to prepare the sand tables that were the 3-D representations of the topographical maps that would be used during the Normandy landings. It was in this position that he would frequently travel to regimental headquarters at Littlecote House to support meetings and briefings attended by Colonel Robert Sink and other officers.
Shames jumped into France on June 6, 1944, with Wolverton’s battalion. Fighting through Normandy, he was the first member of the 3rd Battalion to receive a battlefield commission. After becoming a second lieutenant, Shames was transferred to Easy Company where he joined the 3rd Platoon. Shames then led his platoon for the remainder of the war, most notably during “Operation Pegasus,” where he supported Easy Company commander First Lieutenant Frederick “Moose” Heyliger in the rescue of British paratroopers trapped at Arnhem and later during the defense of Bastogne. After the war, Shames became a Middle East Analyst for the National Security Agency. Eventually, he involved himself in the Easy Company veterans’ group, helping to organize reunions and acting as a spokesperson for the company.
As I prepared the very first Band of Brothers tour, Shames’ memories of his time with 3rd Battalion were invaluable. It was largely through his recollection of regimental headquarters that we were able to confirm the location of several important rooms in the Tudor manor house that served as Sink’s headquarters prior to the D-Day landings as well as providing invaluable insights into the personalities of Colonel Sink and Lt. Col. Wolverton and how their respective headquarters worked prior to D-Day. Without his contribution there are several pieces of the puzzle that never would have fallen into place.
I also vividly remember our many conversations about Easy Company and how he always would invite me to assist in company events and would admonish me when I missed them by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “you were probably lost on some battlefield somewhere weren’t you?” A quick wit, in most cases he was right. Given that he played an important part in helping me tell the story of his regiment, I hope he understood my absence and would have approved.