William Guarnere as a young soldier
April 28, 1923|
|Died||March 8, 2014
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1945|
|Unit||Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division|
|Other work||Author, Veteran organization member|
Staff Sergeant William J. Guarnere (April 28, 1923 – March 8, 2014) was a former non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army during World War II. Guarnere wrote Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story with Edward "Babe" Heffron and Robyn Post in 2007. Guarnere was portrayed in the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Frank John Hughes.
William Guarnere was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 28, 1923, the youngest of 10 children, to Joseph and Augusta Guarnere, who were of Italian origin. He joined the Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) program during the Great Depression. Guarnere's mother told the government her son was 17 when he was, in fact, only 15. He spent three summers in the CMTC, which took four years to complete. His plan upon completion of training was to become an officer in the United States Army. Unfortunately, after his third year, the program was canceled due to the pending war in Europe.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and six months before graduation, Guarnere left South Philadelphia High School and went to work for Baldwin Locomotive Works, making Sherman tanks for the Army. This upset his mother, because none of her other children had graduated from high school. Guarnere switched to the night shift and returned to school, earning his diploma in 1941. Because of his work, he had an exemption from military service.
Guarnere earned the nickname "Wild Bill" because of his reckless attitude towards the enemy. He was also nicknamed "Gonorrhea", a play on the his Italian last name, as was depicted in Band of Brothers. He displayed strong hatred for his enemy, since his elder brother, Henry Guarnere, had been killed fighting in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.
Guarnere lived up to his "Wild Bill" nickname. A terror on the battlefield, he fiercely attacked the Germans when he came into contact with them. In the early hours of June 6, he joined Lieutenant Richard Winters and a few others trying to secure the small village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and the exit of causeway number 2 leading from the beach. As they headed south, they heard a German platoon coming to bring supplies and took up ambush positions. Winters told the men to wait for his order to fire, but Guarnere was eager to avenge his brother. Claiming he thought Winters might be hesitant to kill, he opened fire immediately, killing most of the unit.
Later, on the morning of June 6, he was also eager to join Winters in assaulting a group of four 105 mm Howitzers at Brécourt Manor. Winters named Guarnere Second Platoon Sergeant as the 11 or 12 men attacked about 50. The attack was later used as an example of how a squad could attack a vastly larger force in a defensive position.
Guarnere was wounded in mid-October 1944, while Easy Company 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 Company. A third man, Gerald J. Loraine (27 March 1913—19 May 1976), received the Silver Star for his participation on D-Day, but 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.
Medals and decorations
|Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster|
|Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters|
|Presidential Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster|
|Good Conduct Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 service stars and arrowhead device|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Croix de guerre with palm|
|French Liberation Medal|
|Combat Infantry Badge|
|Parachutist Badge with 2 combat jump stars|
Guarnere returned to the United States in March 1945 and took on many odd jobs. He wore an artificial right leg until he was able to secure full disability from the Army, threw away the limb and retired. He became an active member of many veterans organizations, and presided over many Easy Company reunions.
Guarnere wrote Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends:Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story with Edward Heffron and Robyn Post, outlining Easy Company's experiences. The book was published by Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Books, in 2007.
Guarnere died on March 8, 2014. Guarnere's family confirmed his death.
- DeAngelis, Frank. "Guarnere's shadowbox". Retrieved 2009-10-15.
- Guarnere and Heffron, p.87.
- Guarnere and Heffron, pp.4-5.
- Guarnere and Heffron, p.6.
- Guarnere, William J.. - Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 - 1946 (Enlistment Records). - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- Guarnere and Heffron, pp.62-64.
- Guarnere and Heffron, pp.64-70.
- Guarnere and Heffron, p.141.
- Guarnere and Heffron, p.142.
- Guarnere and Heffron, p.150.
- Guarnere and Heffron, pp.184-187.
- Loraine, Gerald J. - Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 - 1946 (Enlistment Records). - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
- California Death Records. - SSN: 552-09-1839. - The California Department of Health Services Office of Health Information and Research vital Statistics Section.
- Winters, p.88.
- Winters, p.185.
- "'Gov. Tom Corbett orders flags to half-staff for Wild Bill Guarnere'". DelcoTimes.com. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
- Ambrose, Stephen E. (1992). Band of Brothers. New York: Touchstone Books; p. 296.
- Chang, David. "'Band of Brothers' WWII Vet Bill Guarnere Dies at 90". NBC10.com. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- Guarnere, William J., and Edward J. Heffron, with Robyn Post (2007). Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story. Berkley Caliber. ISBN 978-0-425-21728-3.
- Winters, Richard D., with Cole C. Kingseed (2006). Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-425-20813-3.
- WildBillGuarnere.com — Official website
- William Guarnere at the Internet Movie Database
- Biography on Normandy 1944 site
- Photos from "Wild Bill" Guarnere's 2008 USO trip to the Middle East
- Interview excerpt: "William "Wild Bill" Guarnere" — World War II Magazine — c/o Men of Easy Company.