Illustration by Tom Stiglich in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, I WATCHED the story of Sergeant Bill Guarnere from airborne training through V-E Day. His character formed part of the Emmy-winning "Band of Brothers".
Bill Guarnere died in his hometown of Philadelphia more than 60 years after he and his fellow non-commissioned officers gave up their stripes in support of Lancaster County native Lieutenent Dick Winters. The rebellious attitude of Bill Guarnere pulsated through the entire Band of Brothers mini-series. Wild Bill was possibly the most famous paratrooper of Easy Company.
South Philly, where Guarnere grew up, makes tough guys tougher. It's a rugged part of metropolitan Philadelphia--you can see that from your window seat on descents into the Philadelphia Airport.
Just like his movie character, Bill Guarnere was up-front and said what he thought. You get smacked around if you use flowery language in South Philly.
I had to read Stephen Ambrose's history of D-Day as part of my Air Force Academy education and I bought Dick Winters' book as well. I think Guarnere would find fault with both of those books. He thought the "Band of Brothers," on which the series was based, was a fucked-up story--although he didn't share his opinion in any Amazon reviews.
Bill Guarnere outlived his wartime commander Dick Winters by several years. Dick died in January 2011. Guarnere's local wartime "Band of Brothers" buddy, Edward "Babe" Heffron, died in December 2013.
I never made it to a Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II show in Reading (PA) where Guarnere occasionally appeared alongside his fellow veterans.
Only a few of Easy Company still remain: Don Malarkey, Brad Freeman, Ed Tipper and Herb Suerth.
Wild Bill Guarnere he died suddenly on 8 March 2014 from a ruptured aortic aneurysm. As Larry Alexander puts it, "It figures that he'd get ambushed by something that sneaked up on him. Wild Bill would've fought anything that came at him head-on. And he was just ornery enough to have won."
[Bernie Goldbach heard of Bill Guarnere's death from a news clipping sent by Mom Goldbach in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.]
1. Band of Brothers: Bill Guarnere on YouTube.
2. Larry Alexander -- "Wild Bill Guarnere Lived Up to His Name" in Lancaster Online, March 13, 2014.