On March 8, at the age of 90, “Wild Bill,” the nicknamed bestowed on William Guarnere for his tenacity in battle, died. You may remember him as a member of Easy Company in the hit HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” In the series, Frank John Hughes portrayed his character.
There now remains eighteen members of the legendary Easy Company still alive.
Guarnere enlisted in the Army on August 31, 1942. Following training, he deployed to Europe with Easy Company’s Second Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division. He made his first combat jump over Normandy on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) as part of the Allied invasion of France.
Soon after, Guarnere received a battlefield promotion to sergeant. Alongside the Rhine River in mid-October 1944, Second Platoon’s placements were about a mile apart, so Guarnere confiscated a farmer’s motorcycle to facilitate his task of checking their positions that ended when a sniper’s bullet fractured his right leg. Thrown from the motorcycle, he fractured his shinbone and shrapnel found his rear end.
In England, recovering from his wounds, he went AWOL to rejoin Easy Company in fear of his reassignment to another platoon.
Guarnere was caught, court-martialed, and demoted. But because his court-martial notification hadn’t reached Easy Company in time, he rejoined Easy Company as sergeant of Second Platoon just before their deployment to Belgium.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Guarnere, while attempting to help a wounded comrade, Joe Toye, lost his right leg in an artillery barrage on his position.
Evidently his court martial never did catch up to him and he returned home in March 1945 with many commendations, medals, and decorations.
In the intervening 68 years, he devoted his life keeping Easy Company together. He coordinated reunions, produced newsletters, and helped members keep in touch.
In 2007, Guarnere co-wrote with another member of second platoon, Edward “Babe” Heffron, along with journalist Robyn Post, the national best-seller “Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story.”
Guarnere, and Heffron who died on December 1, 2013, were born 18 days apart, lived a few blocks from each other on Philadelphia’s south side, and in war fought side by side. After the war they continued their friendship, became best friends, visiting and talking to each other every day.
Easy Company’s commanding officer, Major Richard Winters (Lieutenant at the time), described Guarnere and Heffron as “natural killers.” Perhaps with greater determination than others, they, nevertheless, did what our country required of them; as they described it, they did their duty, doing what they needed to survive.
But, in the midst of all the adulation, we shouldn’t forget there are millions of other warriors who don’t get the praise that Guarnere, Heffron, and some others receive, even though they too performed equal feats of courage, did their duty, and did what their country required of them. So it’s important to keep in mind that we should hold in reverence the lives of all our warriors with an understanding that war is all about killing.