South Philadelphia native and American hero William "Wild Bill" Guarnere will be memorialized in the same city where he was born.
Guarnere, a World War II veteran who was portrayed on the television miniseries, Band of Brothers, died on Saturday at the age of 90.
Guarnere was rushed to the Jefferson University Hospital early Saturday and died of a ruptured aneurysm early Saturday night.
A public viewing for Guarnere will be held Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Edmond's Church on 2130 S. 21st Street in South Philly. A second viewing will be held on Friday, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. ahead of a funeral at 10 a.m.
Ruffenach Funeral Home at 21st and Snyder Streets in South Philly will be handling arrangements.
Guarnere was a non-commissioned officer with the legendary Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.
He was six months away from graduating South Philadelphia High School in December of 1941, when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. Guarnere left school and worked for Baldwin Locomotive Works, an American builder of railroad locomotives based in Philly, and made battle tanks for the army. However, in order to please his mother, Guarnere switched to the night shift and finished school, eventually earning his diploma.
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After enlisting in the paratroops in 1942, Guarnere joined Easy Company, earning the nickname “Wild Bill” for his daring battlefield exploits. Guarnere’s time in World War II was dramatized in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers in which he was played by actor Frank John Hughes.
"He was without a doubt one of the bravest and best soldiers in all of Easy Company," said Easy Company historian Jake Powers. "He was one of the best combat leaders not only in his company but also the division. If there was a fight going on with the 1st Platoon or 3rd Platoon, Bill would miraculously show up and leave 2nd Platoon to go help. He would 'march to the sound of gunfire.' He had no reservations and was just a fearless man in combat."
Guarnere’s time in the war ended when he lost his right leg while trying to help a wounded soldier. For his efforts during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, he earned the Silver Star. He later received two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
After the war, Guarnere played a major role in several veterans’ organizations and Easy Company reunions.
"He was the glue that held the Company together," Powers said. "He would coordinate the reunions, do all the newsletters and send letters to keep the guys in touch and find Company men. He did that from the end of the war until his death."
Ultimately, Powers says Guarnere was instrumental in keeping the legacy of Easy Company alive.
"The heavy lifting that Bill did after the war kept all these men together," Powers said.
In 2007, Guarnere wrote the national best-seller "Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story" with fellow unit member and Philly native Edward “Babe” Heffron as well as journalist Robyn Post. Heffron died last December, also at the age of 90.
Guarnere spoke to NBC10 last year about his relationship with Heffron. Guarnere claimed he knew Heffron was from South Philly the moment he saw him.
"I knew he was from South Philly from the way he walked," Guarnere said. "Bing, bang, boom! That's the way he walked!"
Guarnere was also known for his sense of humor. Powers remembers a particularly funny moment when the Veterans were in Bastogne, Belgium, filming the documentary portion of "Band of Brothers."
"It was a real somber moment and everybody was quiet," Powers said. "Then Bill says, 'Hey, look Babe! It's me leg!' It kind of broke up everybody and everybody had a good laugh about it."
Aside from his skills in combat and humor, Powers says he'll also remember Guarnere for his tremendous compassion.
"Under his tough exterior he had a heart of gold," Powers said. "He would do anything for anyone. Not only his Veteran friends but he was also great to the general public, as far as autographs, appearances or shaking hands. He was real accommodating to anybody."
Guarnere is survived by sons, Gene and Williams as well as nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Donations in Guarnere's memory can be made to St. Jude Cancer Research, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105, 800-822-6344. Tribute #35555845.