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Dropped onto D-Day

As told to Machla Abramovitz

When Ed Shames and his battalion parachuted into Nazi-occupied Normandy seventy years ago this week, their mission was to prevent heavily fortified German positions from reaching the beaches. While most of the division was lost, Shames and his men fought on, paving the way for the end of the war. But no battle could prepare him for Dachau.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Second Lieutenan tEdward Shames, age 92, has the voice and demeanor of a man ten years younger. Speaking from his home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, he comes across as personable, straightforward, funny, and somewhat self-effacing. “I’m no hero,” he insists. “I did a job that I was trained to do and I did it well because I was trained to do it well.”Born in Norfolk, he was one of an elite group of paratroopers that served with the 3rd and later 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 101st Airborne. Both these battalions distinguished themselves on D-day and elsewhere in World War II. Their astonishing exploits are recounted in StephenAmbrose’s Band of Brothers, which was the basis of an HBO series by that name. The 3rd Battalion’s exploits are also explored in Ian Leonard Gardner and Roger John Day’s Today We Die as Men. Shames features prominently in both books.Jewish and of Russian origin, he was the youngest of four children raised by a single mother after his father died. His mother raised him on strict principles: Be respectful of others, helpful, honest, and the best, no matter what the task, at everything you undertake. He lived by these principles. Married for 68 years, he has two sons — one an attorney and the other an optometrist, both of whom served in the US Army — as well as many grandchildren.He is somewhat elusive about what he’s done since retiring from combat. He says he’s been back to Germany many times and to the Middle East 94 times. He sees himself as a taskmaster, hates slackers, and is a perfectionist. “I’ve obviously never attained perfection. But I strive for it,” he said.Shames saw lots of combat while serving in the US military. But, from all he’s experienced, his most deadly challenges took place on the coast of Normandy on D-day and the weeks that followed 70 years ago, when the 506th PIR went head-to-head with the Germans at the Battle of Bloody Gully. He recounts what it was like to live through those critical days, which contributed to the Allied victory in World War II. 

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