Currahee – In Memoriam: Col. Ed Shames
Theta Chi Fraternity is saddened to report alumnus initiate, Col. Ed D. Shames (Zeta Pi/Old Dominion 2014) has joined the Chapter Eternal.
During World War II, Shames was an officer in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division, best known as the subject of the book and HBO series Band of Brothers. Shames was also the last living officer of Easy Co.
Shames was the cousin of Harold Winer (Zeta Pi/Old Dominion 1971). Winer, who was the Big Brother of Past International President Carlton Bennett (1972) had mentioned Shames’ service record from WWII. An avid reader and history lover, Brother Bennett hatched an idea to invite Ed Shames to join Theta Chi Fraternity.
Shames accepted the invitation, and on Saturday, November 15, 2014, he was initiated by Zeta Pi Chapter (with the other members of their fall 2014 pledge class) in a ceremony held in his hometown, Norfolk, VA. Brother Shames noted he was very impressed with Theta Chi and our ceremony and was humbled to have been considered for membership.
Over the years as his health allowed, Brother Shames attended several Zeta Pi alumni events: golf outings, picnics, get-togethers during ODU basketball games, etc. He met with collegiate brothers to share lessons in leadership.
In 2015, Brother Shames was the focus of a feature article for The Rattle where he shared stories and memories from his service in the war and beyond.
In 2016, during a Theta Chi University event held in Washington, D.C., Brother Shames provided a keynote address to attendees and was presented the Fraternity’s Citation of Honor. Carlton Bennett also humbly gave Brother Shames a personal gift as a token of appreciation: his International President’s Badge. Whether the Badge presented at his initiation or the gift presented by Brother Bennett, Brother Shames always wore the Badge with pride. He was a proud member, and particularly proud of his cousin, Harold. Brother Shames felt a sense of connection to our brotherhood and made contributions to the Foundation Chapter.
Brother Shames' memorial service was held on Sunday, December 5, 2021. 25 Theta Chis were in attendance, including 20 collegiate brothers from Zeta Pi/Old Dominion. He was laid to rest next to his wife, Ida, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk.
Theta Chi Fraternity was honored to have Col. Ed Shames, a true Resolute Man, as a member in our own Band of Brothers. Our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of Brother Shames, including Brother Harold Winer.
A brief description of Brother Shames’ actions during WWII is included below.
Click here to view his obituary.
Read the feature Rattle interview with Brother Shames here.
To watch video excerpts from our interview with Brother Shames, watch our YouTube playlist here.
Read Shames' tribute in The Virginian-Pilot, his hometown newspaper, here.
To view video from his memorial service at Forest Lawn Cemetery, click here.
Brother Shames biography, Airborne: The Combat Story of Ed Shames of Easy Company, is available on Amazon at this link.
At the age of 19, Shames entered training camp at Toccoa, GA, in September 1942 as a private in Item Company, 3rd Battalion, 506th Regiment. He endured the grueling training process and ran up nearby Currahee Mountain numerous times. After Toccoa, he completed additional training and earned his jump wings and shipped out to England in September 1943. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant and was responsible to learn and brief the 3rd Battalion on every detail of the invasion. He constructed sand tables used in planning the Normandy invasion.
Shames jumped into Normandy on D-Day and landed amidst cattle on a farm, having no idea where he landed. After finding other paratroopers, he opted to knock on the door of a local farmer to help identify their location. He knew from training that the last place that he wanted to be was in Carentan – where the German armor was headquartered. Shames and the others made a quick exit after the farmer was able to explain that they were actually in Carentan.
Due to his leadership and actions on D-Day assisting in securing vital bridges and during the Battle of Bloody Gully, Shames was promoted to Lieutenant by Colonel Sink. He was the first NCO in the 3rd Battalion to receive a battlefield commission in Normandy. After returning to England, he was reassigned to Easy Company.
Shames participated in Operation Market Garden, jumping into the Netherlands. He later participated (as a volunteer) in Operation Pegasus, which evacuated more than 130 British paratroopers. He was assigned to serve as the Lieutenant for Easy Company’s 3rd Platoon. He defended Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and led assaults in Foy and Noville. In Foy, he helped to disable a German tank with a bazooka.
Shames was known to be a rough and tough officer with a no-nonsense attitude. Shames explained he knew he had to be serious as men’s lives were in his hands. Under his leadership, his platoon experienced the least amount of losses.
Following the Battle of the Bulge, Easy Company stumbled upon a concentration camp in Landsberg and Shames was sent out to investigate rumors of another, larger camp. He became the first U.S. officer to visit the Dachau concentration camp.
Easy Company was later sent to Berchtesgaden, where Shames visited Hitler’s Eagles Nest and claimed a bottle of Hitler's cognac (which he used years later during his son's bar mitzvah). He accepted the surrender of a German officer and relieved him of his side-arm, discovering later that the German was Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, a top German commander.
Following the war, Shames served in the Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel.