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Easy Company 506th PIR, 101st ABN Division
William J. "Wild Bill" Guarnere (born 28 April 1922) 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. He was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Frank John Hughes
William Guarnere was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of 10 children to Joseph "Joe" and Augusta. Guarnere joined the Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) program during the Great Depression at age 15. 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 United States Army. Unfortunately, after his third year the program was canceled due to the pending war in Europe.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, and six months before graduation from South Philadelphia High School, Guarnere left and worked for Baldwin Locomotive Works making Sherman tanks for the Army. His mother was very upset because none of the other children had graduated from high school. He switched to the night shift and returned to school, getting his diploma in 1941. Because of his job he had an exemption from military service, but he didn't use it. In mid-1942, Guarnere enlisted in the paratroops and started training at Toccoa, Georgia.
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 ?Wild Bill? because of his reckless attitude towards the Germans. Another nickname for him was "Gonorrhoea" because of its similarity to his last name (this was used in the miniseries Band of Brothers). He displayed strong hatred for the Germans because one of his elder brothers, Henry, had been killed fighting the German Army in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.
Guarnere lived up to his nickname of "Wild Bill." A terror on the battlefield, he fiercely attacked the Germans he came into contact with. In the early morning hours of June 6, he joined up with Lieutenant Winters and a few other men trying to reach their objective, to secure the small village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and the exit of causeway number 2 leading up from the beach. As the group headed south, they heard a German supply platoon coming and took up an ambush position. Winters told the men to wait for his command to fire, but Guarnere was eager to avenge his brother and, thinking that Winters might be a Quaker and hesitant to kill, opened fire first killing most of the unit.
Later on the morning June 6 he was also eager to join Winters in assaulting a group of four 105mm Howitzers at Brécourt Manor. Winters named Guarnere Second Platoon Sergeant as a group of about 11 or 12 men attacked a force of about 50. The attack led by Winters would be used as an example of how a small squad-sized group could attack a vastly larger force in a defensive position.
He was injured in mid-October 1944 while Easy was securing the line on "The Island" on the south side of the Rhine. As the sergeant of Second Platoon, he had to go up and down the line to check on and encourage his men, who were spread out over a distance of about a mile. While driving a motorcycle that he had stolen from a Dutch farmer across an open field, he was shot in the right leg by a sniper. The impact knocked him off the motorcycle, fractured his right tibia, and also lodged some shrapnel in his right buttocks. He was sent back to England on October 17.
While recovering from injuries, he didn't want to be assigned to another unit, so he put black shoe polish all over his cast, put his pant leg over the cast, and walked out of the hospital in severe pain. He was caught by an officer, court-martialed, demoted to private, and returned to the hospital. He told them he would just go AWOL again trying to leave the hospital to rejoin Easy Company. They kept him a week longer and then sent him back to Holland to be with his outfit.
He arrived at Mourmelon-le-Grand, just outside Reims, where the 101st was on R and R (rest and recuperation), about December 10, just before the company was sent to the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, on December 16. Because the paperwork did not arrive from England about his court-martial and demotion, he was put back in his same position.
While holding the line just up the hill southwest of Foy, a massive artillery barrage hit the men in their position. Guarnere lost his right leg in battle while trying to help his wounded friend Joe Toye (who could not get up because he had also lost his right leg). Due to this injury, Guarnere's participation in the war came to an end.
Guarnere received the Silver Star for combat during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, and was later decorated with two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, making him one of only three Easy Company members (the others being Lynn "Buck" Compton and Richard "Dick" Winters) to be awarded the Silver Star throughout the duration of the war while a member of Easy.
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.
In late May 1944, when word came that you were being sent out, did you know that this time it was not a training excise?
We knew it was time to go. We went out on problems all the time, but this time when we left, we could see tears in the eyes of the people of Aldbourne, where we had been stationed. They knew D-Day was coming. I don't know, but they knew. There was a lot of military traffic in the town, and all of it was moving to the south.
What were the marshaling areas like?
The area was beside the airfield at Uppottery. Once we got inside, we were not allowed to talk to anyone who was not in the unit. They had GIs dressed in German uniforms walking all around. Soon after we settled in, the men started cleaning their equipment. Everyone was paying more attention to their weapons. Nobody had to tell the men to do it, they just did. All around me were troopers who kept taking their weapons apart and putting them back together again. All the rifles really shined. I spent most of my time talking over the mission with the other sergeants in the company.
What were the officers doing while all this was going on?
They were being briefed on the upcoming mission so that they could then brief us. The day before the men were briefed, I was shown into a tent, where I saw a sand-table mock-up of where we were going. It looked like a toy; everything was perfect. We found out that the one thing the sand table did not show were the hedgerows. They explained where we would land and what we would do. We were instructed to secure a causeway that ran through the small town of Pouppeville, so that tanks coming up from Utah Beach would be able to move inland. They said it would be a real piece of cake, but, even then I remember thinking that it could not be that easy. As it turned out, it wasn't. Everything was fouled up. I never was able to understand how they could not have warned us about those hedgerows.
Was everybody ready to go?
I know I was. After the men had been briefed on the evening of June 3, I was lying on my bunk trying to get some rest when I decided I needed to go to the bathroom. Johny Martin was on the bottom bunk, and I was on the top. When I got up to go to the latrine, I picked up a jump jacket, thinking it was mine, and headed out to do my business. While I was sitting there, I realized that I had picked up Johny's coat by mistake. I needed something to pass the time, so I reached into the pocket of the jacket and found a letter. Since Johny and I were pretty close, I thought, "What harm could there be in reading the letter?". The letter was from Johny's wife and said, "Don't tell Bill, but his brother was killed in Casino, Italy". That is how I found out my brother was dead. My girlfriend, Frannie, had written to Pat Martin, and she had written to Johny. I couldn't believe it. I used to write to my brother when I had a chance, but the mail was not regular. He was a medic in the 1st Armored Division and had been killed on January 6, 1944. When I read the letter, all I thought was, "Give me a gun and let me go". I never thought I would make it through the first day. Put yourelf in my position- I was half nuts. I didn't love the Germans, that was for sure, but the news of my brother's death put a little more spice into the killing. When they said it was time to go, I was ready. Believe me, I was ready.
You were originally supposed to go on the evening of the 4th, but at the last minute General Dwight Eisenhower postponed the mission until the 5th. What was that like?
We just kept doing what we had been doing. That is when they pulled that limey idea on us. The first two men in each stick were given British leg bags to carry extra equipment as we jumped out the door. We had never jumped with a leg bag before and had no idea what to expect. Instead of being careful of what we packed, the men put all sorts of stuff in the bag I was carrying. Naturally, all the bags quickly became overloaded. They all got so heavy you could not even pick them up. We waited by our planes for close to eight or ten hours. While we waited, I was getting madder and madder, thinking about my brother. I was fuming, and the rest of the boys were wild as can be.
At 2200 hours, the waiting was finally over. What was the trip to Normandy like?
The flight across was peaceful. Most of the guys were quiet, except for (Wayne) "Skinny" Sisk, who asked if anybody wanted to buy a watch. I was number two in the stick, so I had the leg bag. I had attached the bag to my right foot, and though I was not aware of it, on the flight across the weight of the bag had put my foot to sleep. When we finally got close to the French coast and the bullets started flying, everybody started screaming. "Get out, get out, get the hell out!". When the order finally came to stand up and hook up, I could not stand. Every time I stood up, I fell down again. Those bullets ripping through the plane woke my foot up fast, though, and I was eventually able to throw myself out, headfirst.
What was the jump like?
After I jumped out and my chute deployed, I looked around. It looked like the Fourth of July out there. No, it looked like 10,000 Fourth of Julys. I started dropping toward Ste. Mère-Église. The first thing I noticed as I looked down was that the place was on fire. The French were trying to put out the fires. I came down fast and landed quick and goddamned hard. I landed near the church in the center of the town. I had lost my leg bag on the jump and landed without a weapon. With all those troopers falling from the sky, however, I was soon able to find one. Joe Toye landed nearby, and we soon found Carwood Lipton.
Then what did you do?
We started off toward our objective at Pouppeville. More of the men joined us as we went along, and soon there were about 8 or 10 of us. At some point, we heard the sounds of a German supply train. In the distance, we could hear the clop, clop, clop of horses' hooves and the creaking of cart wheels. I remebmber thinking, "Jesus Christ, it sounds like they are ringing bells". Well, we set ourselves up and got ready for them. They walked right into us. We annihilated the sons of bitches right there. We let 'em get past us, and then we opened fire. That was my first taste of combat. We just shot down all the bastards. We did ot take any prisoners. They never knew what hit them.
What did that first experience of combat feel like?
It felt good. I was paying back my brother. I killed a lot that first day. You put yourself in my position. I never thought I would make it through that first day. I shot everything I saw. At one point, I even told Don Malarkey to get out of my way or I would shoot him too.
After you destroyed the German supply column, what did you do?
We then headed toward Pouppeville. That's when we came across the German guns at Brécourt Manor. We had no idea they were even there, but when we reached La Grand Chemin, some of the headquarters staff filled us in. That is when we launched our attack. Nobody really had any idea what was there, but we knew we had to take the gun, or the guys coming up from the beach would be in big trouble. There were only 10 or 12 of us, but we attacked fast. We were able to capture three of the guns before Lieutenant Ronald Speirs from Company D came up and captured a fourth gun.
Was the fighting over then?
No, we still had to disable the guns, and German machine guns from across the field were still firing at us. I tried to disable them by dropping grenades down the barrels, but it wasn't really working. That's when Lewis Nixon and Clarence Hester came up with TNT, and we were able to blow up the guns' breeches. As soon as we destroyed the guns, the adrenaline I had been running on just left me. I was so tired that I remember looking over the top of a hedge with a pair of field glasses to see if there were any more Germans around, and I fell sound asleep. Joe Toye came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder, and I think I jumped 10 feet. The 10 seconds I slept were like 10 hours. Not long after that, some of our tanks came up.
What did you think when you saw your first American tank?
I remember thinking, "Thank Christ". Then I started looking back on what we had just done, and I started thinking, "Jesus, we are all going to get killed. If we keep this up, we are all going to be dead".
So had you become nervous about what the future might hold?
No, I wasn't thinking about my parents or my brother or anything like that. After that first night, I was sort of resigned. I never thought I would make it out alive, and I just got madder. All I was thinking about was killing more Germans. I wanted to kill Germans for revenge, that's all.
Did you feel that way for the whole war?
Not really. My anger wore off in a day or two. After each fight with the enemy, you learn a little more, and in Normandy you had plenty of opportunity to get educated real fast. It was not like I thought it was supposed to be. Even though we had been well trained, none of us had any idea of what it was really like until the shooting started. All the training in the world couldn't prepare you for what happened. It's funny, though-once the firing started, your head just clicked, and you did what you had to. It is hard to realize what is happening until the enemy starts shooting at you. Then you think: "Hey, they are shooting at me. Why is everyone in the German army trying to kill me?". You think you are alone but you're not. Everyone else has the same feeling and is looking out for one another. We made it through because of training. All because of that goddamn Captain Herbert Sobel in basic training at Toccoa.
You are getting a lot of attention. What is so special about Easy Company?
We don't think we are special. All of the troopers in the 506th were good. If there is anything for us to feel special about, it is that we are survivors. When I read the letter about my brother getting killed, I didn't know whether to cry or shit. I was just dumbfounded. Then I thought, "Well, you're going over there pretty soon, kid, and you'll get your shot". Then I got over there and was a wild man. Even my buddies stayed away from me those first couple of days. Now, I wouldn't step on a bug. I don't want to kill nothing. I am an entirely different person today.
Dropped out of High School senior year. Enlisted in July 1942. Lost right leg on 3 January 1945 due to German 88 shrapnel. Discharged in March 1945. Published Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends in 2007.