Bill Guarnere has been a silent hero to people across the globe, particularly overseas, and is a frequent guest of radio shows and television programs in Europe. He came to the attention of the American public as a result of the HBO documentary, “Band of Brothers.” Bill was featured prominently throughout the mini-series and was portrayed by the outstanding young actor Frank John Hughes.
William J. Guarnere was born on April 28th, 1922. The baby in a family of 10 children, he grew up on the streets of South Philadelphia. At age 15, Bill’s mother helped Bill enroll in the military by lying about his age (she said he was 17) so Bill spent three summers at Ft. Meade.
A Rendezvous with Destiny
Bill was on the fast track to complete his four years at the CMTC (Combat Maneuver Training Center). Had he completed his training, he would have become an officer in the United States Army. Bill’s training was interrupted in his third year as the program was discontinued in 1939 due to the pending war in Europe.
In response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bill quit High School in his senior year, just 6 months shy of his graduation. He went to work at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, PA, making tanks for the military. Bill’s mom was upset that Bill quit High School, as all of Bill’s siblings also made the decision to leave High School prior to graduation. Bill’s mom persisted that he finish High School, so he finally promised he would. He worked the night shift for 6 months (12 midnight to 8 am) and from work went to Southern High. He graduated in June, 1941. Bill thanks his mom everyday for his education.
In July 1942, Bill enlisted in the US Army Paratroopers division, and was shipped to Camp Toccoa. Bill was assigned to Company “E,” 506th Parachute Regiment, which was a part of the 101st Airborne Division. Bill and his comrades trained hard, running up Currahee mountain repeatedly for 6 months. The 101st endured Parachute training as well, and in December 1942, each man made his 5 qualifying jumps to receive the coveted Jump wings. Bill was officially a Paratrooper, which was the proudest moment of his young life, and remains one of the crowning achievements in his entire life.
Bill lost his leg in the Battle of the Bulge from German 88 shrapnel. He was attempting to pull from the snow his great friend Joe Toye, who also lost his leg that very same day. Bill’s heroism has been documented in countless articles, documentaries, and tribute sites across the globe.
Bill lived in South Philadelphia all his life, where he and his wife Frannie raised their two children, Gene and Bill, Jr. Bill met his wife Frannie in South Philly when she was 13 years old. Bill was 16 at the time, but swore that he would marry her later on, and he did. When he returned from the war in February, 1945, he and Frannie eloped in Elkton, Maryland. Frannie passed away on January 9, 1997, and we were all sorry that she missed all the “Band of Brothers” hoopla that would surround Bill and his comrades for the years to come. She above all others would have appreciated it. She loved to travel and was a great lover of life. Bill cites her as the greatest influence in his life.
Bill’s Final Jump
Bill passed away in March of 2014. His funeral was reported nationally and covered by national media and press. There was a large military presence at his funeral, many Philadelphia police officers and other armed forces. He was honored with a motorcade to the cemetery and a full military salute complete with taps, a gun salute and a military folding of the flag that draped his coffin.
Bill has been honored by presidents, senators, governors and just about every local organization dedicated to great American citizens. Bill attended the American Film Institute’s tribute to Tom Hanks at the request of Steven Spielberg. Bill and his great friend Babe Heffron walked out on stage at the very end, as a “surprise” for Mr. Hanks. It was awe-inspiring to watch Hollywood’s “A-List” give the only standing ovation of the evening to Bill and Babe. May he rest in peace.