World War II veteran William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, who lost a leg in the Battle of the Bulge and was immortalized in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, has died at the age of 90 according to his son.
The HBO miniseries, which was based on the Stephen Ambrose book Band of Brothers, follows the lives of soldiers from E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from boot camp in Georgia to combat jumps in Normandy and Holland to their heroic defense of Bastogne, Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge. The HBO series was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. William Guarnere was played by actor Frank John Hughes, who also appeared on the Sopranos.
William Guarnere was born on April 28, 1923 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of 10 children. He enlisted in the US Army on August 31, 1972 and was sent to Camp Toccoa, Georgia where he was assigned to Easy Company and completed jump school and paratrooper training.
Wild Bill Guarnere distinguished himself in the Normandy campaign where he was awarded the Silver Star for his role in assaulting a battery of German 105 mm cannons that threatened the D-Day landings on Utah Beach. Guarnere was wounded by a sniper in October 1944 during Operation Market Garden, the allied invasion of Holland. During the Battle of the Bulge, Guarnere lost his right leg in a German artillery barrage outside the Belgian village of Foy with fellow Easy Company soldier Joe Toye. The war was over for Guarnere.
Guarnere received numerous medals and decorations during World War II, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a Cross de Guerre from the French government. Guarnere also earned the Parachutist Badge with two combat jumps. Guarnere returned to the United States in March 1945 and wore an artificial leg until he could secure full disability from the Army.
After the war, Guarnere married, had a child, and went to work as a printer, salesman, Veterans Administration clerk and carpenter – all with an artificial leg. Finally in 1967 he received full disability and was able to retire. He threw away his artificial leg and used crutches from that point forward. He remained in South Philadelphia where he and his wife Fran ultimately had five children. His oldest son served as a paratrooper in Vietnam. Guarnere was an active member of many veteran organizations and presided over many Easy Company reunions. Guarnere and fellow Easy Company pal Edward “Babe” Heffron co-wrote the book Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two World War II Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story. The book was published in 2007.
Guarnere was rushed to Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia Saturday night. He died of a ruptured aneurism according to his son, William Guarnere Jr. “He lived a good life. He traveled a lot. He pretty much did everything he could have done,” his son said Sunday.
Wild Bill Guarnere was one of the last Band of Brothers from Easy Company. Edward “Babe” Heffron died in December and Easy Company Commander Lt. Richard Dick Winters died in 2011.
By John J. Poltonowicz