On Jan 12th I met up with Richie and Kieran in South Philadelphia on Passyunk Ave to meet a living legend, “Wild” Bill Guarnere.
Bill Guarnere is a veteran sergeant of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) attached to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army during the Second World War.
Kieran had been doing some reading online about the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, which used Frank John Hughes to portray Guarnere’s exploits during the war. There was a notice posted regarding Guarnere’s appearance in a discussion forum Kieran came across. He alerted us to it and it was decided we’d meet up after work to have him sign autographs, including Kieran’s copy of the Band of Brothers book and Richie’s DVDs. I didn’t own any media related to him. I got a signed post card of a battle scene and a 2007 daily planner with an American flag on the cover when I walked into the store.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I figured maybe there’d be some coffee, or the guy would speak briefly, or someone on behalf of him, but I wasn’t too clear beyond that. When I got to the address, it turned out the place he was appearing was actually a store that sold grave stones and funeral monuments. The room was slighly smaller than my living room and he was seated at a table pretty much as soon as you walked into the room. His personality was very gregarious and he spent the whole time working the room cracking jokes and kidding with people. In addition to us, a small family of three, and two other vets, everyone else in the room was either a uniformed or ununiformed cop.
A little girl was there with her parents and seemed to be really confused as to what was going on. Her parents seated her next to him and took a picture. He kidded with her and had everyone laughing. The girl looked up at her mother and the mother said, “Honey, you know those war movies daddy watches?” She nodded her head, yes. Her mother continued, “That’s him.”
Like that cleared everything up.
I managed to pull off a few pictures of “Wild” Bill Guarnere with Richie and Kieran. We’re laughing in the pictures because the guy had us rolling the whole time we were there.
“Wild” Bill was about as South Philly as cheesesteak. He could have signed his name any way he wanted to. He could have easily pulled off “Bill Guarnere, Hero” and no one would have blinked. The manner in which he chose to sign his name? Wild Bill Guarnere, South Philly.
Thaaaaaaat’s right! South Philly, baby, South Philly!
Some biographical info on “Wild” Bill…
William Guarnere was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of 10 children. At 15, the United States Government created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) programs to help boys during the depression. The CCC was a civilian project to get kids off the street. Guarnere’s mother told the Government that he was 17 while he was only 15, and he spent three summers in the CMTC, which took four years to complete. Upon completing his training he would be an officer in the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, after his third year the program was cancelled due to the pending war in Europe.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, and six months before graduation from high school, Guarnere left and worked for Baldwin Locomotive Works making tanks for the Army. In mid-1942, Guarnere enlisted in the paratroops.
William Guarnere joined Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, to fight in World War II. He made his first combat jump on D-Day as part of the Allied invasion of France. He earned the nickname â€œWild Billâ€ because of his reckless attitude towards the Germans. Another nickname for him was “Gonorrhoea” because of its pronunciation sounding just like his last name (this was used in the miniseries Band of Brothers). He displayed strong hatred for the Germans because one of his brothers had been killed fighting the German Army in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.
He lived up to his nickname of Wild Bill. A terror on the battlefield, he fiercely attacked the Germans he came into combat with. Guarnere received the Silver Star for combat during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, as well as two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, making him one of only two Easy Company members (the other being Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton) to be awarded the Silver Star throughout the duration of the war while a member of Easy. While recovering from injuries, he absented himself from his hospital to rejoin Easy Company just before the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. He lost his leg in that battle while trying to help his wounded friend Joe Toye (who could not get up because he had also lost his leg). Due to this injury, Guarnere’s participation in the war came to an end.
In his recent autobiography entitled Beyond Band of Brothers; Memoirs of Major Richard Winters, Richard Winters refers to two men in Easy Company as being “natural killers”: Ronald Speirs and Bill Guarnere. When making those statements about both men, Winters says it in a way that reflects respect, not in a negative manner.
After the War
Guarnere returned to the USA in March, 1945 and claims that if you name a job, he did it.
Nickname: Wild Bill, “Gonorrhoea”
Place of birth: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Years of service: 1942-1945
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment
- Purple Heart (2OLC)
- Silver Star
- Bronze Star (2OLC)
- World War II Victory Medal
- Good Conduct Medal
- Presidential Unit Citation (2OLC)
Other work: “You name it, I done it.” – William Guarnere