William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, Sr. was rushed to a hospital from his home in Philadelphia Saturday morning. By the time Saturday night had arrived, Guarenere had died from a ruptured stomach aneurysm. Guarnere was 90 years old.
Bill Guarnere rose to fame in the United States after the production of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers in 2001. The miniseries was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg and based off of the novel of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose.
Band of Brothers followed the story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division from its training days at Toccoa and Mt. Currahee in Georgia to its parajump at D-Day in Normandy and all the way to its invasion of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and the end of World War II.
Bill Guarnere earned the nickname “Wild Bill” due to his vehement hatred and subsequent slaughtering of as many Germans as possible during the war. Before boarding the plane which would transport the troops from England to the beaches of Normandy, Guarnere learned of his brother’s passing in Monte Casino, Italy at the hands of the Germans. It was this event which propelled Guarnere to become the Nazi-killing machine he was: “I couldn’t wait to get off the plane. I killed every German I could. That’s why they called me ‘Wild Bill.’ ”
After landing on the beaches of Normandy, Guarnere almost single-handedly killed an entire platoon of German soldiers at the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in his first combat mission. Guarnere would eventually be shot in the leg by a sniper in 1944. While recovering in a hospital in England, Guarnere attempted to escape to rejoin his fellow Easy Company soldiers in the Netherlands. When he was caught in his escape attempt, Guarnere threatened to go AWOL if not allowed to rejoin his company.
Unfortunately for Guarnere, his time with Easy Company would end when he lost a leg at the Battle of the Bulge while attempting to assist a fellow soldier who had also lost a leg.
Despite his heroic actions in battle and fame which followed, Guarnere’s son says that his life was fairly normal: “All we knew was he lost his leg, and that was it. People knew more about (his service) than we did… His life didn’t really change, other than the fact that he was signing books and posters.”
While Guarnere most certainly harbored a deep hatred of German soldiers and the Nazis, his love for Easy Company was even greater. In 2007, Guarnere decided to tell his own version of the story of Easy Company in a best-selling memoir entitled “Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends,” co-authored by fellow veteran and Easy Company member Edward J. “Babe” Heffron.
“He did more things behind the scenes for other veterans than (for) himself,” stated Band of Brothers tour company operator Jake Powers.
William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, Sr. is survived by his wife, the former Frances Peca, two sons, nine grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.
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