Jewish WWII Veteran Remembered for Liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp, Toasting Son’s Bar Mitzvah With Hitler’s Cognac
A Jewish World War II veteran and one of the first American soldiers to help liberate the Dachau concentration camp died on Friday at the age of 99.
Retired Colonel Edward Shames died “peacefully at home,” according to an obituary posted by the Holloman-Brown Funeral Home & Crematory in Norfolk, Virginia.
Shames was the last surviving officer and oldest surviving member of the famed Easy Company, which was part of the US Army’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The World War II paratroopers and their bravery inspired the 1992 book “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose and the 2001 award-winning HBO miniseries of the same name, created by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
Born in Norfolk to Jewish parents, Shames reportedly forged his mother’s signature to enlist in the US Army in 1942 at the age of 19. He became one of the officers in charge of Easy Company and took part in “some of the most important battles of the war,” according to his obituary.
“He made his first combat jump into Normandy on D-Day [June 6, 1944] as part of Operation Overlord. He volunteered for Operation Pegasus and then fought with Easy Company in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne,” the funeral home said. “Ed gained a reputation as a stubborn and very outspoken soldier who demanded the highest of standards from himself and his fellow soldiers.”
After the Nazis surrendered at the end of World War II, Shames was the first member of the 101st Division to enter the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, mere days after its liberation. He and his men from Easy Company also entered Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest — which was exclusively used by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings — and Shames took a few bottles of cognac bearing a label that said, “for the Fuhrer’s use only.” Shames later used the cognac to celebrate his oldest son’s bar mitzvah.
After the war, Shames worked for the National Security Agency as an expert on Middle East affairs, went on to serve in the US Army Reserve Division, and eventually retired as a colonel.
Shames was married to his wife Ida, who predeceased him, for 73 years. He is survived by his sons Douglas and Steven, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. A graveside service was held in Norfolk, Virginia, at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Sunday morning.