The Washington Times Daily
Veterans unite us
U.S. military enjoys the broad support of Americans who value courage, service and love of country
It is self-evident that America today is a very divided country, a fact soundly underscored by last week’s elections. Moreover, surveys show that Americans are losing faith in our institutions — government at all levels (Congress especially), the media, our education system, even organized religion.
A major exception is the U.S. military, which, according to the most recent Pew poll, enjoys the support of 83% of the public, tied with scientists for the highest approval rating. I think this is because the American people see in our armed forces (both active duty and retired) the qualities they most admire. These include courage, service, self-sacrifice and love — love of country, love of family and love for the men and women who serve alongside them.
Veterans Day provides an opportunity to reflect on these qualities and the veterans who embody them. This year, the American Veterans Center’s annual tribute to our veterans will be a “virtual” salute, concentrating on the veterans of World War 11, whose ranks are quickly receding into the mist of history.
Among the honorees is Col. Edward Shames, Army retired, at 98 the last living officer of the 101st Airborne Division’s “E” Company, now legendary as the “Band of Brothers.” Col. Shames led his men through months of combat, including the Battle of the Bulge where, ill-clad and ill-equipped, in the frozen hell (it did freeze over that year) of Bastogne, they held off the German onslaught.
Toward the end of the war, Shames and his men, now in
Germany, were approached by a highranking Nazi officer who announced that he wanted to surrender. He turned out to be Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, one of the most senior officers of the entire Third Reich. Col. Shames readily agreed to the offer, but Kesselring specified that he would only surrender to a general officer.
Shames, a mere captain, said, “You speak English, right” to which the field marshal nodded yes. Shames replied, “Well, I’m going to count to five and, if I don’t have your weapon in my hand, by then, your brains are going to be all over this road.”
Shames got the revolver, which he still proudly possesses.
Col. Shames’ saddest distinction is that he was the first 101st Division officer to enter Dachau: Col. Shames, who is Jewish, says the horror of the experience was so traumatic that it still haunts him today, 75 years later. It’s his only war experience he won’t or can’t talk about.
Shames and his men were also among the first to enter Hitler’s home, the Eagle’s nest, whereupon they began to ransack the place. Shames helped himself to a bottle of cognac labeled “For the Fuhrer’s use only.” Fourteen years later,” he says with satisfaction, “we opened the bottle to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah.”
Upon return to his home in Virginia Beach, Ed Shames married his sweetheart, Ida Aframe, a beautiful young lady who would be his wife for 73 years. Like her husband, Ida had an impish and feisty side.
She loved to say, in her delightful Tidewater drawl, “When Eddie got back in 1945, that’s when the real war started.” Until shortly before her death, Ed and Ida celebrated happy hour daily. His beverage of choice (and the secret to his longevity, he says)? “An old Indian medicine called Vod-kah, made by Chief Grey Goose.”
For the last 20 years, following his retirement from government intelligence and before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Col. Shames tirelessly traveled the lecture circuit giving pro bono talks about his war experiences. His favorite audiences are on the college campus where, despite the age difference, he finds that the young people love his stories and his sharp wit. Educating the young about their country’s history is a passion and a mission for Ed Shames.
His life has been recounted in the book “Airborne” by Ian Gardner and published by Osprey. (All profits are donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.)
Ed Shames lives alone now, following Ida’s death, but despite being “old as dirt,” he keeps busy signing copies of his book and answering a never-ending stream of correspondence. For him, service ends when life ends.
“I’ll slow down,” he says, “when I meet the undertaker.”
To view the tribute to Col Shames, introduced and narrated by actors Dennis Quaid and Ed Harris, please go to American Valor at Americanveteranscenter.org.