World War II veterans describes war experience

By Gretchen Andersen

Retired Army Col. Edward Shames has jumped out of a plane 107 times, but that doesn’t mean… Retired Army Col. Edward Shames has jumped out of a plane 107 times, but that doesn’t mean that it got any easier for him.

“I think it’s ridiculous to jump out of an airplane,” Shames said with a smile as the crowd began laughing.

Shames, who was featured in the 2001 HBO series “Band of Brothers,” spoke about his training and experience as a paratrooper during World War II and more at the lecture, “A Brother’s Tale.” The Wednesday night event at the O’Hara Student Center was sponsored by Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services and the College of General Studies Student Government.

More than 300 community members, military personnel, veterans and students attended the 45-minute lecture and Q&A, some standing against the walls as they listened to Shames speak. About 60 Army ROTC cadets were present.

Shames, who will be 90 next June, enlisted in the Army in 1942 at age 19. He became part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a newly formed group of highly specialized Army soldiers in Fort Monroe, Va.

“We had an obstacle course made by the devil himself,” Shames said. “It was destroyed after we went through basic training.”

After fighting in Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and later in Holland, Shames joined Easy Company in Bastogne. It was during this period that Shames became the first enlisted man in the 101st Airborne Division to receive a battlefield commission, where he was promoted to officer.

As a second lieutenant, Shames oversaw a platoon of 40 to 45 men.

“I had some of the finest soldiers in the American Army,” Shames said.

He spoke about the book and the HBO series, “Band of Brothers.” The book is an account of Easy Company’s war experiences, from training to Operation Market Garden to the liberation of concentration camps.

Shames received a copy of the book before it was released and had a few arguments with the author, Stephen Ambrose, about the facts.

“No one company did any more than any other company in the Parachute Infantry,” Shames said. “These books comment on ‘I and me’ more than ‘we and they.’’’

Shames said the amount of curse words in the book was not reflective of how the soldiers spoke.

“I am not a prude — I drank and chased women like all the rest of them, but I didn’t let my men talk that way,” Shames said.

However, Shames did acknowledge that the book elevated a part of World War II to the public eye. Before, “no one really was interested in it,” he said.

Although many people regard the soldiers in World War II as the “greatest generation,” Shames said he doesn’t agree. He thinks his generation is no better than any other generations who have fought in wars.

At the end of the lecture, Dennis Renner, benefits coordinator for the Office of Veterans Services, presented a Terrible Towel and plaque to Shames for visiting campus, acknowledging that Shames has visited the troops in Iraq and other colleges and bases because “he loves to do this.”

Senior Katie Muller, an Army ROTC cadet, said it was interesting to hear Shames talk about his different experiences while being an enlisted soldier and an officer, and how his discipline made him a good leader. Muller said ROTC cadets like herself can learn from Shames’ leadership.

“He said he isn’t a hero, but I know he is,” Muller said.

Senior Brett Gedman said Shames “told it like it is, mixing a lot of humor and accounts.” Gedman said he was inspired by how Shames lived for “something greater than himself.”

“There are not that many World War II vets left,” Gedman said. “I think people take these men for granted.”

Vietnam War veteran Dennis DiBon, of Indiana Township, agreed.

“We are losing them and they did do outstanding things,” DiBon said. “They served for a full duration of the war, only a severe wound could really get them out.”