One of the original ‘Band of Brothers,’ ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere recently passed away at 90 yrs old.
Guarnere joined Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He made his first combat jump on D-Day as part of the Allied invasion of France.
Guarnere earned the nickname “Wild Bill” because of his reckless attitude towards the Germans. He was also nicknamed “Gonorrhoea”, a play on the pronunciation of his last name, as seen in Band of Brothers. He displayed strong hatred for the Germans because one of his elder brothers, Henry, had been killed fighting the German Army in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.
Guarnere lived up to his nickname. A terror on the battlefield, he fiercely attacked the Germans he came into contact with. In the early morning hours of June 6, he joined up with Lieutenant Richard Winters and a few other men trying to reach their objective, to secure the small village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and the exit of causeway number 2 leading up from the beach. As the group headed south, they heard a German supply platoon coming and took up an ambush position. Winters told the men to wait for his command to fire, but Guarnere was eager to avenge his brother and, thinking Winters might be a Quaker and hesitant to kill, opened fire first, killing most of the unit.
Later, on the morning of June 6, he was also eager to join Richard Winters in assaulting a group of four 105mm Howitzers at Brécourt Manor. Winters named Guarnere Second Platoon Sergeant as a group of about 11 or 12 men attacked a force of about 50. The attack led by Winters was later used as an example of how a small squad-sized group could attack a vastly larger force in a defensive position.
Guarnere was wounded in mid-October 1944 while Easy was securing the line on “The Island” on the south side of the Rhine. As the sergeant of Second Platoon, he had to go up and down the line to check on and encourage his men, who were spread out over a distance of about a mile. While driving a motorcycle (that he had stolen from a Dutch farmer) across an open field, he was shot in the right leg by a sniper. The impact knocked him off the motorcycle, fractured his right tibia, and lodged some shrapnel in his right buttock. He was sent back to England on October 17
While recovering from injuries, he didn’t want to be assigned to another unit, so he put black shoe polish all over his cast, put his pants leg over the cast, and walked out of the hospital in severe pain. He was caught by an officer, court-martialed, demoted to private, and returned to the hospital. He told them he would just go AWOL again to rejoin Easy Company. The hospital kept him a week longer and then sent him back to the Netherlands to be with his outfit.
He arrived at Mourmelon-le-Grand, just outside Reims, where the 101st was on R and R (rest and recuperation), about December 10, just before the company was sent to the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, on December 16. Because the paperwork did not arrive from England about his court-martial and demotion, he was put back in his same position.
While holding the line just up the hill south west of Foy, a massive artillery barrage hit the men in their position. Guarnere lost his right leg in the incoming barrage while trying to help his wounded friend Joe Toye (who could not get up because he had also lost his right leg). This injury ended Guarnere’s participation in the war.
Guarnere received the Silver Star for combat during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, and was later decorated with two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, making him one of only two Easy Company members (the other being Lynn Compton) to be awarded the Silver Star throughout the duration of the war while a member of Easy. A third man, Gerald J. Loraine (27 March 1913—19 May 1976), received the Silver Star for his participation on D-Day, however he was a member of Service Company, 506th, not a member of Company E.
In his autobiography, Beyond Band of Brothers; Memoirs of Major Richard Winters, Richard Winters referred to Ronald Speirs and Guarnere as “natural killers”. In making those statements about both men, Winters expressed respect, not negativity.
His son, William Guarnere Jr., confirmed that his father died at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Guarnere was rushed to the hospital early Saturday and died of a ruptured aneurysm early Sunday night, March 9th.
“He had a good, long life,” his son said.
The HBO miniseries, based on a book by Stephen Ambrose, followed the members of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division from training in Georgia in 1942 through some of the war’s fiercest European battles through the war’s end in 1945. Its producers included Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Guarnere was portrayed by the actor Frank John Hughes.
Guarnere, whose combat exploits earned him his nickname, lost a leg while trying to help a wounded soldier during the Battle of the Bulge. His commendations included the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
In 2007, Guarnere helped write a nationally best-selling memoir called, “Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends,” with fellow south Philadelphian veteran Edward J. “Babe” Heffron and journalist Robyn Post. William Guarnere Jr. said his father and Heffron met during the war and remained friends until Heffron died in December.
“Now they’re together again,” the son said.
Jake Powers, who operates a Band of Brothers tour company in Grafton, Mass., said Guarnere worked behind the scenes to ensure that his comrades received the recognition they deserved.
“He did more things behind the scenes for other veterans than (for) himself,” Powers said.
Rest in Peace and thank you.