The Siege of Bastogne: E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne, The Band of Brothers
Colonel Edward Shames
Ed Shames volunteered for the paratroops in 1942 and was assigned to I Company in the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne. After receiving a battlefield commission at Carentan in Normandy, he joined E Company—now known as the Band of Brothers—as a 2nd Lieutenant in July, 1944. He would command Easy Company’s 3rd Platoon at Bastogne.
Allow me to tell you how we got to Bastogne, what we saw, and a bit of what we did when we got there. Back to the middle of December 1944. My unit—E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division—had just come off of about 80 days of combat in Holland during Operation Market Garden. We went into reserve for rest, refitting, and refreshment of both manpower and equipment at Mourmelon, France. As I remember, we had been there for about two weeks, when word came down at regiment that officers and men who had not already had leave in England were to be given a period of leave. Almost everybody had already gone on leave before, back in England, but I was one of the few who had not. Now I thought I was headed to Paris on leave, and I was a kid in heaven. That is all we ever dreamed about, constantly—Paris.
With a pocket full of money, I was raring to go, and about to blow it all in Paris—so I thought. I believe it was the night of December 17, and the radio kept blaring about the breakthrough up north. But who the hell cared? I was off to Paris the next morning with my convoy of happy warriors. Fat chance. Instead, we ended up in a 10-ton open tractor-trailer truck without a top, freezing our tails off. We had no ammo, no good clothing, and ended up in a place that we had no idea where it was. Some of the men even had no weapons, unbelievable, but very true. We thought we were cold that night, but we did not know that ride would become a Sunday excursion compared to what we were to experience later that month.
When we offloaded the trucks that morning, I do not believe there was a single man that had the foggiest notion as to where we were. It was cold as hell, and very foggy. We saw hordes of our soldiers running towards us down the middle of the road, and watched them throw their weapons and equipment to the ground. They were yelling, “Don’t go up there! The Germans are going to kill everyone! Run as fast as you can! They are coming, run!” These were American soldiers, both officers and men. I repeat, both officers and men. I was never more ashamed of my countrymen than at that moment—before or since. I will never forget that sight as long as I live.
One good thing came about in those moments—we were able to retrieve some equipment, clothing, and ammo from what was being discarded, and there was a ton of it scattered all over the area. This material was being thrown away to lighten the load of these people, these hysterical people, so they could run faster. I refused to call them soldiers. As I recall, it was fairly early in the morning, and very foggy. You could hardly see more than 100 feet in front of you, if that. It was cold as hell, as I said before, and the enemy was very close; we felt it in our bones.
Our column was halted for a few minutes, and Col. Sink himself, regimental commander of all the troops, got out of his jeep and came right up to my platoon. He was with our battalion commander and our regiment’s officer, and I shall never forget it. Whether he came to my platoon by design or fate I will never know. But he was the one who commissioned me back in Normandy, and who had recommended me for a battlefield commission, and he knew I could read a map as well as any officer or man under his command. Maps were my hobby since I was five-years-old. So I was a bit weird, when I was five. Some boys like snakes and spiders, but I loved maps, and still do.