Col. Ed Shames said he could still hear the bullets piercing his parachute as he landed behind enemy lines in Normandy.
Shames, 97, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, is the last surviving officer of Easy Company, also known as “The Band of Brothers,” which fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, and captured Adolf Hitler’s compound at Eagle’s Nest.
Suffolk County officials honored Shames on Saturday as part of a ceremony to unveil an American flag at the Suffolk County offices in the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.
County Executive Steve Bellone had taken the flag to France to fly over Omaha Beach on June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day. While the flag — which also has flown over the Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries — remains framed in the lobby of the county administrative building, Bellone said it would fly each June 6 over Armed Forces Plaza off Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge.
Bellone said it was important to honor and thank World War II veterans like Shames while they were still living, and he called him “an American hero.”
“I’m no hero,” Shames said. “None of us are heroes. We did what we were supposed to do, what we volunteered to do and what we were paid to do. I don’t know why they want to thank us, because everyone my age was in the service of some kind.”
But Bellone recounted how Shames jumped behind enemy lines with the 506th paratrooper regiment of the 101st Airborne Division and fought through German-controlled territory asking for ammunition as other armies were retreating, and his regiment held the line during the 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge.
“You read about the hell they fought through and it’s hard to imagine,” Bellone said.
Shames recalled his nervousness, shaking as his company parachuted over Normandy and landed in the French farmlands. He said he could hear the bullets flying through his parachute before he landed.
Other veterans and veterans groups also were at Saturday's dedication, as was former President George H.W. Bush's service dog, Sully, who was with Bush during his final six months.
State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) pointed toward another American flag on the flagpole outside the building and said these veterans were the reason the flag still flies today.
“They say they’re not heroes, but the fact we’re here now and have the rights and privileges today tells us one thing — they are heroes, and we owe everything we have to these men and those who came to protect our nation,” Brooks said.