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Shames receives friendly fire

The rescue of the British 6th Airborne Division

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Shames was born in Norfolk, Virginia on June 13, 1922. Shames can recall the Great Depression, but it wasn't as severe in his part of the country as it was in others. Most everyone had a job because of Norfolk's connection with the government and the military. His father was not effected as he was a government employee during the Depression. As a young man he sold newspapers, magazines and shined shoes. He caddied golf, worked in the fields and did anything he could to make a few bucks. Before the war Shames worked for the Navy as a diver prior joining the Army. Shames heard about the paratroops from Fort Monroe. He heard about the paratroops as being an elite unit and he wanted to join. He joined the Army at Camp Lee, Virginia. He was told that the paratroops wanted men of top condition and an IQ of 110 or better. His ego got the better of him and he decided he could make it in the paratroops. In the first physical about 20% of the men were eliminated from the paratroops. He relates a story about Currahee [Annotator's Note: Currahee Mountain at Camp Toccoa, Georgia] and the initial training that occurred there. The recruits would walk 8-10 miles both ways to their training area. Shames says that men didn't want to quit because it was the thing to do. Everyone wanted to be a paratrooper. Shames says that during the 506th's famous 149 mile march, they lost many men through the wear and tear of the march. Those who couldn't make the march were out of the paratroops. The march was made in 3 days in full combat gear. Shames carried the light machine gun [Annotator's Note: 1919A4 Browning Light Machine gun].

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After the long march the men began their jump training. [Annotator's Note: Apparently Interviewer re-started the oral history at this point, as he asks the same questions as in the previous segment] Shames describes the training for the paratroops as brutal and very tough. Currahee Mountain served as both their training ground and their punishment. Jump training was taken at Fort Benning, Georgia. The men were required to make 5 jumps in order to get their paratrooper wings. Most men accomplished the goal in either 1 or 2 days. The Tennessee Maneuvers [Annotator's Note: Training conducted in Tennessee in which European Theater conditions were simulated] were next for the 3rd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. In the Tennessee Maneuvers the paratroopers prevailed over all conditions.

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The men of the 506th were sent to Ramsbury, England to stage for the invasion of Normandy. Shames recalls 3 or 4 dress rehearsals prior to the invasion of Europe in order to throw the Germans off. Prior to the invasion the townspeople were out in force to tell the men goodbye. Exercise Tiger [Annotator's Note: Major dress rehearsal for the invasion of Normandy] didn't go off well, as the paratroops were dropped all over England, eerily similar to the Normandy drop a month later. The men were dropped everywhere and scared the English civilians. Shames was designated as a machine gunner in I Company 506th PIR [Annotator's Note: Parachute Infantry Regiment]. After leaving Fort Benning the men went to Camp McCall [Annotator's Note: Camp McCall, North Carolina]. Shames set up his machine gun and was commended for the placement of his weapon. His ability to read a map endeared him to the Battalion Commander in late February of 1943. He was made the Operations Sergeant. While in England, Shames was assigned to build the sand tables prior to the invasion. Shames was in charge of briefing the battalion on their missions for the invasion. When Shames jumped on D-Day he jumped near the Carnation Milk Factory in Carentan. He was the last man in the stick of 19 paratroopers that jumped from his C-47. When he landed he landed in the barn in the milk factory. He landed amongst a bunch of cows in the barn and cut himself out of his chute and shrouds. After orienting himself and heading in the right direction towards his rendezvous point, Shames met other paratroopers and together they headed towards their rendezvous. Shames says that he was unaware of his position, but knew he was headed in the right direction. In order to find out where he was Shames decided to try and talk to some civilians and find out where they were on a map.

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Shames and his men stopped at a French farmhouse and met an old lady and man. The woman started to scream and Shames put his hand on her mouth. The old man directed Shames towards Ste. Mere Eglise, Ste. Come du Mont and informed them that they were in Carentan. Shames and his men left as fast as they could and headed towards their objectives. Along the way Shames picked up more men. All total he had 18 men with him. Shames describes the jump into Normandy as the 4th of July. He could hear the rounds coming through the parachute as he descended towards the ground. Shames' mission was to secure a bridge over the Douve River in Normandy and set up a position near the bridge. Shames and his men held their position for almost 3 days around the bridge. Their heaviest weapon was a 60mm mortar without a base plate. Shames had the men cut up blocks of C4 explosive and throw them over the dike on the other side of the Douve River. The following day [Annotator's Note: June 7, 1944] American aircraft flew over Shames' position in order to bomb the bridges that his men were securing. During the bombing Shames jumped into a shell hole on top of the chaplain. At this time, the Germans were firing 20mm at Shames. Shames told the chaplain to lay out recognition panels to stop the bombing while Shames threw smoke grenades to block the view of the German gunners. The attacking American aircraft, P-47's, according to Shames, killed several Americans and wounded more. As a result of the air attack, the bridge that Shames was holding was severely damaged by the aircraft and rendered impassable. Shames estimates that there were over 100 paratroopers in the area around the bridge.

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Shames participated in the battle of Carentan [Annotator's Note: 10-14 June 1944]. Shames says that the Germans were cleared out of Carentan on June the 12th and describes the fighting as hand to hand at some points. On June 13, both forces met in a simultaneous counterattack. All hell broke loose. Shames was ordered to join H Company on the right flank of the attack. His job was to make sure that F Company was on H Company's flank and follow them across the road and across the hedgerow. Upon attempting to determine F Company's position, he could not locate them. He reported the situation to HQ [Annotator's Note: Headquarters] and relayed the information to the Operations Officer of the Regiment. After speaking with Colonel Sink [Annotator's Note: Colonel Robert F. Sink] he was ordered to return to headquarters and show Sink his position. After Shames' thoughts were confirmed D Company was ordered to take F Company's supposed position on the line. Towards the end of the evening Shames says that heavy units relieved them [Annotator's note: 2nd Armored Division].

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On the night of the 13th, Shames was called by a runner to see Colonel Sink. When he arrived at Regimental Headquarters, Sink promoted Shames to the rank of Second Lieutenant [Annotator's note: Shames was the first enlisted man in the 506th to receive a battlefield commission]. Upon returning to his unit he was asked by the new Company Commander of HQ [Annotator's Note: Lt. Morton] Company about being the 1st Sgt. of HQ Company. Shames was given the choice of taking the 1st Sgt. job or refusing it. Shames decided to take the job of 1st Sgt. before getting back to England when the Second Lieutenant position became official. Shames waited until after the division came back on leave after the Normandy campaign and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant. He was told that he would be transferred out of the division as a new officer. Colonel Sink decided to keep the 3 new battlefield promoted officers in the 506th. Shames was, however, transferred from the 3rd Battalion to the 2nd Battalion. The new officers were told to re-supply, which also meant swapping their M1 Garands for Carbines. Shames refused and kept his Garand for the duration. He could be identified through Bastogne and Holland as the officer who carried the M1 rifle. Shames ate for the first time in the Officer's Mess. The only open seat was next to Lieutenant Nye, a well-off officer, who had been Shames' platoon leader and had a mean reputation.

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Now that Shames was an officer as well, he could tell Lieutenant Nye what he thought of him, that he was a "mean son of a bitch" . Upon reaching 2nd Battalion, Colonel Strayer [Annotator's note: 2nd Battalion Commanding Officer] assigned Shames to Operations under Captain Lewis Nixon. Shames relates several stories about having to wake Lewis Nixon in the morning after Nixon had been on all-night drinking sessions. Shames went to the Battalion Commander for transfer and was told that he would not be transferred from under Nixon. Shames then decided to go to the Regimental Commander for transfer and his actions were frowned upon by the Regimental Commander, Colonel Sink. Colonel Sink then assigned Shames to take the position of the 3rd Platoon Leader, Easy Company, 506th PIR.

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Shames begins by telling a story of meeting the chief of the Dutch Undeground, John Van Kuijk, during Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Van Kuijk told Shames of a telephone line that ran from Tielberg to Eindhoven. Shames was selected to go with Van Kuijk to Tielberg to reconnoiter German tanks. Information was gathered by Shames and he reported back to the regiment and passed on the information. Shames describes the men of the 3rd Platoon as the roughest, toughest, finest soldiers in the Army. Shames feels as though the men of the 3rd Platoon didn't like him because of his gruff manner. Shames and the men of the 3rd Platoon fought in Holland for a total of 79 days. Shames set up a system that no patrol would be sent out unless Shames went with the platoon. He rates his non-commissioned officers as the best in the entire Company. Shames would not ask any of his enlisted men to do anything that he would not do himself. As the fighting in Holland died down Shames' platoon conducted almost constant patrolling action to find out the German's positions and their intentions. Shames and his men left Holland and went to Mourmelon, France to re-equip and get replacements.

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Shames begins by talking about Herbert Suerth and Suerth's desire to join his platoon. Shames found it funny that Suerth wanted to join his platoon as his platoon was one of the toughest platoons to be in. Suerth was wounded in Bastogne and ended up in the hospital for 18 months. Shames relates the story of how the Dutch Underground swam across the Rhine River to alert the 101st Airborne that the Underground was hiding over 100 of the British "Red Devils" [Annotator's Note: British 6th Airborne Division] that had escaped from the debacle at Arnhem [Annotator's Note: failure to seize the bridge at Arnhem]. Shames was asked to attend a meeting on how to rescue the British soldiers across the river. Shames relates the story of how he helped rescue the 150 or so British soldiers from the opposite side of the Rhine River during Operation Market Garden.

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Shames says that Bastogne was very cold, and mostly the platoon executed patrolling actions. Shames relates that his platoon lost only 1 man during the Bastogne operation [Annotator's Note: Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge was from 20-27 December 1944]. Shames' men had very little food and ammunition during the campaign. He says that morale was fantastic, because they were trained for this type of campaign. Shames is very proud of his platoon; they did a hell of a job. His Platoon Sergeant, Paul Rogers, was the finest soldier he ever served with. Shames says that he was ready to go to Paris on leave and the next morning was told that he would not be going and instead was sent to Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The trucks were unloaded in Bastogne and Colonel Sink got out of a jeep and told Shames to get some men, go up the road and make contact with the enemy. Shames says that the fog was so thick you could hardly see anything around him. Popeye Wynn, Earl McClung, Rod Strohl and Darrell Powers were chosen to execute the penetration patrol near Bastogne. During the patrol they witnessed German tanks camouflaged in haystacks and retreated back to Colonel Sink to report their findings. 11 German tanks were sighted and reported. The German artillery was murderous around Bastogne. Shames describes himself as a perfectionist; even though he never attained perfection, he always strove towards it. He was "tough as hell" on his men and they finally appreciated it when they all came back safely from the war. The presence of the National World War II Museum is important to educate and is super.

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Shames describes the action near the Douve River bridge when he and the men with him were attacked by American aircraft, that he says were P-47 Thunderbolts. Shames and the chaplain laid out recognition panels and popped smoke grenades to alert the American aircraft that the troops they were attacking were friendly. The chaplain received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions and Shames received his battlefield commission.

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Shames tells about how the plan unfolded to rescue the stranded 150 or so British Airborne paratroopers across the Rhine River. Shames then goes on to talk about the execution of the mission and its success.

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