William Guarnere, one of the 'Band of Brothers'

William Guarnere
William Guarnere
Posted: March 11, 2014

William "Wild Bill" Guarnere of South Philadelphia, a member of the famed 101st Airborne Division whose World War II exploits were portrayed in the TV mini-series Band of Brothers, died Saturday, March 8, at Jefferson University Hospital of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He was a month shy of 91.

Mr. Guarnere was taken to the hospital from his home of 70 years in South Philadelphia, son Gene Guarnere of Broomall said.

Mr. Guarnere didn't talk about the war when his two sons were growing up, even though he organized Army reunions beginning in 1947 - and even though he lost his right leg while helping a wounded comrade.

"He never said a word," his son said. "I served in Vietnam in 1967. When I came home, I asked my father what he did in the war. He said, 'The war is over, kid. Forget about it.' "

Forgetting was not an option after writer Stephen Ambrose immortalized the members of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division in his best-selling book, later made into the HBO mini-series. The chronicles followed the soldiers from their training in Georgia in 1942 through the harrowing battles they fought across Europe until the war ended in 1945.

As Mr. Guarnere told The Inquirer in 2010, D-Day was not only terrifying but vengeful. He learned of his brother Henry's death at the hands of the Germans in Italy just before parachuting directly into a firefight in Normandy, France.

"I couldn't wait to get off the plane," Mr. Guarnere recalled. "I killed every German I could. That's why they called me 'Wild Bill.' I landed in the middle of a square and they [Germans] were shooting at us. They were kind of scared; we were scared, too."

Among Mr. Guarnere's buddies in the unit was fellow South Philadelphian Edward "Babe" Heffron. They remained friends until Mr. Heffron died in December.

Mr. Guarnere and Mr. Heffron were instrumental in getting a monument erected in Normandy to honor the leadership of their unit, particularly their former commander, Richard Winters.

"I was mesmerized by the story, not only of my father but of the whole company," Gene Guarnere said.

Mr. Guarnere remained dedicated to his band of brothers, running their reunions until 2003.

Jake Powers, who runs a Band of Brothers tour company in Grafton, Mass., said Mr. Guarnere's defining trait was selflessness.

"He was my oldest daughter's godfather," Powers said. "He had a heart of gold. He'd rather give than take."

In addition to his son, Mr. Guarnere is survived by another son, William Jr.; nine grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

Friends may call from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 13, and from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Friday, March 14, at the Ruffenach Funeral Home, 2101 S. 21st St., Philadelphia. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Edmond's Church, 2130 S. 21st St.




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