and family are mourning the death of a national hero. William "Wild
Bill" Guarnere, a South Philly native and World War II vet who was
portrayed on the television miniseries, “Band of Brothers,” died on
Saturday at the age of 90.
Both Guarnere's family through their website, and Jake Powers, a historian who runs a Band of Brothers tour company, confirmed his death.
Born in South Philadelphia on April 28, in 1923, Guarnere was a
non-commissioned officer with the legendary Easy Company, 2nd Battalion,
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division during
World War II.
Guarnere was six months away from graduating South Philadelphia High
School in December of 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.
Guarnere left school and worked for Baldwin Locomotive Works, an
American builder of railroad locomotives based in Philly, and made
battle tanks for the army. However, in order to please his mother,
Guarnere switched to the night shift and finished school, eventually
earning his diploma.
After enlisting in the paratroops in 1942, Guarnere joined Easy
Company, earning the nickname “Wild Bill” for his daring battlefield
exploits. Guarnere’s time in World War II was dramatized in the HBO
miniseries "Band of Brothers" in which he was played by actor Frank John
"He was without a doubt one of the bravest and best soldiers in all
of Easy Company," Powers said. "He was one of the best combat leaders
not only in his company but also the division. If there was a fight
going on with the 1st Platoon or 3rd Platoon, Bill would miraculously
show up and leave 2nd Platoon to go help. He would 'march to the sound
of gunfire.' He had no reservations and was just a fearless man in
Guarnere’s time in the war ended when he lost his right leg while
trying to help a wounded soldier. For his efforts during the Brecourt
Manor Assault on D-Day, he earned the Silver Star. He later received two
Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
After the war, Guarnere played a major role in several veterans’ organizations and Easy Company reunions.
"He was the glue that held the Company together," Powers said. "He
would coordinate the reunions, do all the newsletters and send letters
to keep the guys in touch and find Company men. He did that from the end
of the war until his death."
Ultimately, Powers says Guarnere was instrumental in keeping the legacy of Easy Company alive.
"The heavy lifting that Bill did after the war kept all these men together," Powers said.
In 2007, Guarnere wrote the national best-seller "Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story" with fellow unit member and Philly native Edward “Babe” Heffron as well as journalist Robyn Post. Heffron died last December, also at the age of 90.
Guarnere spoke to NBC10 last year about his relationship with
Heffron. Guarnere claimed he knew Heffron was from South Philly the
moment he saw him.
"I knew he was from South Philly from the way he walked," Guarnere said. "Bing, bang, boom! That's the way he walked!"
Guarnere was also known for his sense of humor. Powers remembers a
particularly funny moment when the Veterans were in Bastogne, Belgium,
filming the documentary portion of "Band of Brothers."
"It was a real somber moment and everybody was quiet," Powers said.
"Then Bill says, 'Hey, look Babe! It's me leg!' It kind of broke up
everybody and everybody had a good laugh about it."
Aside from his skills in combat and humor, Powers says he'll also remember Guarnere for his tremendous compassion.
"Under his tough exterior he had a heart of gold," Powers said. "He
would do anything for anyone. Not only his Veteran friends but he was
also great to the general public, as far as autographs, appearances or
shaking hands. He was real accommodating to anybody."