Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wild Billy's Real-Life Story

A ragged suitcase in his hand,
he steals silently away from the circus grounds
And the highway's haunted by the carnival sounds
They dance like a great greasepaint ghost on the wind
A man in baggy pants, a lonely face, a crazy grin
Runnin' home to some small Ohio town
Jesus send some good women to save all your clowns....
-Bruce Springsteen

Bill Guarnere died on Saturday night.  He was ninety years old.  Guarnere was one of the men of Easy Company, the paratroopers whose World War II exploits where appropriately memorialized by Stephen Ambrose in "Band of Brothers"

Guarnere was nicknamed "Will Bill", a sorbriquet earned on the field of battle.  As a member of Easy Company, Guarnere fought his way across Europe as a participant in some of the fiercest battles of World War II.  In the Battle of the Bulge, while coming to the aid of one of his brothers-in-arms who had been injured, Guarnere himself was seriously injured.  He lost his right leg.  He earned multiple commendations including two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and a Silver Star. 

When the war ended, Guarnere returned home to South Philadelphia.  He remained in or around the area he had always called home for the remainder of his life.  Like many of his fellow World War II veterans, he was reticent to talk to anyone, including his family, about what he had lived through in combat.  His son, Bill, Jr., said that his dad never spoke about the war.  His family probably learned more about what he had been through due to the publication of Ambrose's book and the HBO Miniseries upon which it was based, which was brought to life by the collaborative talents of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.  Yet, according to his son, Guarnere did not change much.  Not the type to let a little fame go to his head it seems.  

In doing a bit of research myself into "Wild Bill", I came across a photograph that first appeared on a website, www.101airborneww2.com, which came pretty damn close to breaking my heart.  There he is, in dress uniform, visiting some of his old friends - members of his Band of Brothers who did not live to see 90 or V-E Day for that matter. 

When you see that face standing in the midst of that cemetery it makes it easy to understand why his "fame" late in his life did not change him.  He knew the terrible price he had paid - and the even more terrible prices that others had as well.  He and they did what they did because it was their job.  It was their duty.  It was their obligation. 

His friends with whom he served, including those who were left behind on the battlefields of Europe, were his great joy.  And the things he shared with them and them with him were known to all of them.  They did not need to be shared with the world at large.  Perhaps that is why, according to his son, Guarnere spent a good deal of time organizing reunions of the Easy Company survivors and making sure that his fellow Brothers were doing well.    

Rest in Peace Wild Bill.  And once again, a grateful nation thanks you for your service.   


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