Nick Name: Wild Bill
Birthday: April 28, 1923
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: William J. Guarnere
Born Country: United States
Born in: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Famous as: Soldier
Spouse/Ex-: Frances Peca
father: Joseph Guarnere
mother: Augusta Guarnere
siblings: Henry Guarnere
children: Eugene Guarnere, William Guarnere Jr
Died on: March 8, 2014
place of death: Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
U.S. State: Pennsylvania
Cause of Death: Ruptured Aneurysm
Ancestry: Italian Americans
awards: Silver Star
Bronze Star Medal
Who was William Guarnere?
William Guarnere was an American soldier who fought as a non-commissioned officer in the Second World War. Born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, William aspired to join the army ever since he was a kid. He joined the ‘Citizens Military Training Camp’ when he was 15. However, on his insistence, his mother told the recruiters that he was 17, which was the minimum age to join the camp. He completed his 4-year training there and hoped to join the army immediately, but that did not happen. In August 1942, amidst the Second World War, he joined the army and was assigned to the ‘Easy Company, Second Battalion.’ His first battle was in France, where the ‘Allied’ forces had invaded the German forces. He was known by the nickname “Wild Bill,” which he had rightly earned, as he wreaked havoc on the German soldiers. He had also lost his brother to the war. The urge for revenge in him saw him attack the Germans with all his might. However, in 1944, he was badly wounded in a battle. He lost his leg while saving his friend Joe Toye. He was awarded with many honors upon coming back from the war. He also wrote a book titled ‘Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends.’
Childhood & Early Life
William J. Guarnere was born on April 28, 1923, in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., to Joseph and Augusta Guarnere. His was a huge family, and he was the 10th and the youngest child of his parents. His parents were of Italian origin.
Ever since he was a child, William had hoped to join the ‘U.S. Army.’ While, growing up, he witnessed The Great Depression, which had shot up the unemployment rate in the country. As a result, youngsters were increasingly enlisting in the army. In view of this, the ‘United States Government’ established the ‘Civilian Conservation Corps’ (CCC) and the ‘Citizens Military Training Camp’ (CMTC).
The ‘CCC’ was mainly a project to keep teenagers and youngsters away from the streets, as most of the youngsters back then were getting involved in petty crimes, owing to the strong wave of economic depression.
However, the minimum age required to join the ‘CMTC’ was 17, while William was 15 at that time. He made his mother lie about his age, so that he could enter the camp. He thus joined the ‘CMTC’ at 15. He spent three summers there and received extensive military training.
It was a 4-year program, after which William was to be hired as an officer in the army. However, the war that broke out in Europe cut short his training to 3 years. He then resumed his high-school education.
The Second World War was at its worst in the early 1940s, and following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S.A. had started to directly participate in the war. William was still 6 months away from finishing high school, but he dropped out and joined the ‘Baldwin Locomotive Works.’ There, he made tanks for the ‘U.S. Army.’
In mid-1942, however, he was recruited by the army.
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He was initially assigned to the ‘506th Parachute Infantry Regiment,’ which was a newly formed unit. There, he was part of the ‘Easy Company, 2nd Battalion.’ He was trained at ‘Camp Toccoa’ in Georgia, where his regiment earned the motto “Currahee,” owing to their training schedule that involved a 6-mile round-trip run on the Currahee Mountain, which was near the training camp.
As the men from the ‘Easy Company’ completed their initial training, they were sent to join other American troops in England. This was to tackle the possible invasion of Europe by the Germans.
Just before he embarked on his first mission, he came to know about the death of his older brother, who was also in the army. Hence, William also had a personal reason to fight: to avenge his brother’s death. This led him to be extremely violent and reckless on the battlefield, which earned him the nickname “Wild Bill.”
He joined Lieutenant Richard Winters in Normandy, France, in June 1944. The soldiers were asked to secure a small village there, which would block the way leading to the beach. However, the German soldiers arrived unexpectedly to bring supplies, and William and his battalion took ambush positions. His commanding officer, Richard Winters, did not give any order to attack, but William opened fire on the Germans.
It was a reckless behavior that was punishable, but William successfully killed most of the German unit. He later said in his defense that he had thought Winters was hesitant to give a shootout order.
William later became involved in ‘Operation Market Garden,’ which was the largest airborne operation in the war till that point. The mission involved securing a series of bridges in the Netherlands, which would allow the ‘Allied’ armies to easily make their way into the German lowlands.
However, the mission failed, as the German troops were better prepared than the ‘Easy Company’ had imagined.
In October 1944, he was badly wounded while riding a motorcycle to join his troops on the south side of the Rhine. He had stolen a farmer’s motorcycle to reach the venue to motivate his troops. However, he was shot in the leg.
He was admitted to a hospital in England. However, he was so reckless that he became eager to join the ‘Easy Company’ without even healing completely and thus fled from the hospital. He came very close to being court-martialed. He later said that he feared that he would be assigned to a different company.
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He was thus demoted to the position of private after he was caught by a senior officer and then returned to the hospital. William was so stubborn that he told them he wished to go on an “absence without leave” (AWOL). He spent one more week at the hospital before he rejoined the ‘Easy Company,’ just before they were to start a mission to Belgium.
He was sent to fight in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and was reinstated in his previous position in the ‘Easy Company.’ This was due to the late execution of the paperwork about him being court-martialed for defying orders.
While fighting, a bullet hit him on his right leg while he was trying to drag his friend Joe Toye to safety. This injury ended William’s stint in the war, as he ended up losing his leg.
Despite his eccentric behavior on the battlefield, he was admired for his bravery. He was decorated with a ‘Silver Star,’ three ‘Bronze Stars,’ and two ‘Purple Hearts.’
Lieutenant Richard Winters mentioned William as a “natural killer” in his book ‘Beyond Band of Brothers.’
Later Life & Death
William Guarnere married his girlfriend, Frances Peca, in 1945. They had two sons.
He used an artificial leg for a while but threw it away later.
He wrote a memoir titled ‘Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends’ along with journalist Robyn Post and his long-time friend Edward "Babe" Heffron.
He passed away from a ruptured aneurysm on March 8, 2014. He was 90 years old at the time of his death.