William Guarnere as a young soldier
April 28, 1923 |
|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 (born April 28, 1923) is 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 was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Frank John Hughes. 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.
William Guarnere was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of 10 children, to Joseph "Joe" 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 while he was, in fact, only 15. He spent three summers in the CMTC, which took four years to complete. The plan was: upon completing his training, he would become an officer in the United States Army. Unfortunately, after his third year the program was canceled due to the pending war in Europe.
After 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 greatly upset his mother because none of the other children had graduated from high school. In response, Guarnere switched to the night shift and returned to school, earning his diploma in 1941. Because of his job he had an exemption from military service, but did not use it.
Guarnere earned the nickname "Wild Bill" because of his reckless attitude towards the Germans. He was also nicknamed "Gonorrhoea", a play on the pronunciation of his last name, as seen in Band of Brothers. He displayed strong hatred for the Germans because one of his elder brothers, Henry, had been killed fighting the German Army in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.
Guarnere lived up to his nickname. A terror on the battlefield, he fiercely attacked the Germans he came into contact with. In the early morning hours of June 6, he joined up with Lieutenant Richard Winters and a few other men trying to reach their objective, to secure the small village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and the exit of causeway number 2 leading up from the beach. As the group headed south, they heard a German supply platoon coming and took up an ambush position. Winters told the men to wait for his command to fire, but Guarnere was eager to avenge his brother and, thinking Winters might be a Quaker and hesitant to kill, opened fire first, killing most of the unit.
Later, on the morning of June 6, he was also eager to join Richard Winters in assaulting a group of four 105mm Howitzers at Brécourt Manor. Winters named Guarnere Second Platoon Sergeant as a group of about 11 or 12 men attacked a force of about 50. The attack led by Winters was later used as an example of how a small squad-sized group could attack a vastly larger force in a defensive position.
Guarnere was wounded in mid-October 1944 while Easy 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. A third man, Gerald J. Loraine (27 March 1913—19 May 1976), received the Silver Star for his participation on D-Day, however 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 USA 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 presides 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.
- 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.
- 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 Bill's Official web site
- Bio on Normandy 1944 website
- 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.