Bill Guarnere, “Wild Bill” to the men of Easy Company, died March 8, 2014, just three months after the loss of his closest friend and comrade in arms, “Babe” Heffron. In the years after the success of “Band of Brothers,” Guarnere and Heffron traveled to countless events to meet fans, pose for photos, and sign autographs, with Bill usually sporting a “wild” tropical print or hugging a pretty gal.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in the Spring of 1942, Guarnere, the scrappy, scrawny, wise-cracking kid, one of ten, from the South side of Philadelphia, intended to become a Marine when he spotted the”All New! Paratroopers” sign at the recruiting station. The recruiter convinced him the paratroopers were the elite of the Army. If he was going to combat, he was going to fight with the best.
Heffron, a street-wise kid from an Irish family of five, grew up poor, living “up the gut”… meaning in a row house in the alley, on Wilder Street in South Philly. He enlisted in August of 1942, the last of his parent’s four sons to enter the war.
The day he joined Easy Company, the young company commander Dick Winters, sent Heffron to Guarnere, the 2nd Platoon sergeant. The bond was instant and lasting.
Guarnere’s military service ended in the foxholes of Bastogne. After Joe Toye, another Pennsylvania man, was severely wounded during fierce shelling, Guarnere crawled to Toye across the frozen snow. As he tried to drag Toye to safety, Guarnere’s right leg was blown off by a treeburst. Guarnere’s courage cost Easy another man on the line, but probably saved Toye’s life. Guarnere and Toye survived their wounds but never returned to battle.
Heffron and Guarnere documented their story in 2007 – Brothers in Battle: Best of Friends – penned by Robyn Post, a professional journalist in the Philadelphia area.
Tom Hanks wrote this in the foreward – “To single out one or two of the Screaming Eagles as the Most Super-Duper Paratrooper or the Best Source for a free beer on VE day would be a fool’s errand. But to fail to single out Bill Guarnere and Babe Heffron would overlook a grand entertainment and stirring inspiration. ‘Wild Bill’ and ‘Babe’ – Even their names beg the telling of their tale, like great ball players from the 1920’s, or legendary lawmen – or outlaws- of the Old West.”
Thank you for your service. Currahee!