Obit of the Day: Band of Brothers’ “Wild Bill” Guarnere
William “Wild Bill” Guarnere’s first combat jump as a member of the 101st Airborne Divison was on June 6, 1944 - D-Day. Mr Guarnere, who enlisted in 1942, was assigned to the 506th Parachute Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Easy Company, known famously as the “Band of Brothers.”
Mr. Guarnere earned his nickname for his somewhat reckless attacks on German soldiers during and after the D-Day invasion. He had developed a personal animosity for the Nazis after his brother Henry was killed by Germans in the battle of Monte Cassino.
On June 6, Mr. Guarnere fired first on a platoon of Germans who were bringing supplies forward, killing most of them himself. Later in the day under the leadership of Lt. Richard “Dick” Winters, Mr. Guarnere was promoted on-field to staff sergeant and helped lead a platoon of 11 men against four German howitzers and their crews of 50. Even facing overwhelming numbers Mr. Guarnere and his troops won the day.
Several months later Mr. Guarnere was shot in the leg and placed in a cast to recover in a military hospital. Desperate to return to Easy Company, the sergeant painted his cast black with shoe polish and walked out of the hospital in extreme pain. He did not get far. Recognized by an officer Mr. Guarnere was court-martialed and demoted to private and forced to return to the hospital.
Able to earn an early release after threatening to go AWOL again, Mr. Guarnere returned to Easy Company in time for the last major German offensive - The Battle of the Bulge - in the winter of 1944. During the battle, Mr. Guarnere was hit by artillery while trying to save another soldier. He would lose his right leg and be sent stateside for the remainder of the war.
When all was said and done, Mr. Guarnere earned a Silver Star (one of only two earned in Easy Company during the war), two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts.
Mr. Guarnere and the other members of Easy Company entered the popular consciousness with the 1992 publication of Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers and gained even broader fame with the premiere of the HBO miniseries of the same name in 2001. “Wild Bill” was portrayed by Frank John Hughes in the series.
In 2007, Mr. Guarnere and fellow member of E Company, Edward “Babe” Heffron, co-wrote (with journalist Robyn Post) Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story, which became a best seller.
"Wild Bill" Guarnere died on March 8, 2014 at the age of 90.
At the time of his death, there are 19 members of Easy Company still alive.
Sources: Miami Herald and Wikipedia
(Image of William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, circa 1941-1944, is courtesy of letterstoeasycompany.tumblr.com)
Other members of the Band of Brothers featured on Obit of the Day:
Edward “Babe” Heffron - Passed away on December 1, 2013
1st Lieutenant “Buck” Compton - officer in E Company who later prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Sen. Robert Kennedy
Frank Perconte - The oldest living member of Easy Company when he passed away in October 2013
Capt. Richard “Dick” Winters - an interview I posted after his passing in 2011