Log in

No account? Create an account
Goodbye Wild Bill: April 28, 1923 – March 8, 2014 - if you can't be witty, then at least be bombastic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
kyle cassidy

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Goodbye Wild Bill: April 28, 1923 – March 8, 2014 [Mar. 9th, 2014|02:05 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |gratefulgrateful]
[music |the jane austen argument: phoenix]

We knew that it was very hard to kill Wild Bill Guarnere of Easy Company, 506th 101st Airborne, but we also knew that something eventually would. I got a call last night from our friend Barbara who was a neighbor, friend, & caretaker to Bill, that he had finally passed away.

He'd survived so long and so much it seemed that nothing could kill him.

Wild Bill in his South Philly home, 2011. Click to see this image larger.

The German army tried, again and again, and failed, again and again. They shot at him when he parachuted into Normandy, they tried again at Market Garden. He was a fighter, he got away every time, giving better than he got. His commanding officer, Major Dick Winters called him a "natural killer" -- which seems strange to the people who knew him as a jovial and friendly old man. But the war was different. While patrolling the banks of the Rhine river on a stolen motorcycle a sniper shot Bill in the leg and was sent back to England. By covering his cast with shoe polish he escaped from the hospital to return to his unit, like Lassie, he was devoted, and nothing would keep him away and let someone his friends face bullets alone. Eventually they got his leg with an artillery shell at the Battle of the Bulge. He received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and a chest full of other medals. He went home, quietly, to Philadelphia where he didn’t talk about the war, except with his friend Babe Heffron, who’d also served in Easy company, and at reunions.

Bill on his birthday in 2012 with our nephew Oakes

Eventually, Stephen Ambrose talked to Bill and the other surviving soldiers of Easy Company and wrote the book Band of Brothers about them, which got made into a TV series and it made Bill a star. Bill was very happy being a star. He loved talking to people, he loved telling stories. He told me stories when I met him and he was the inspiration for my book War Paint: Tattoo Culture and the Armed Forces, and was on the cover of that book. When I'd asked him about his tattoo I realized that no one had before, and he talked for hours about them.

Bill on his sofa in 2007. Click to see larger.

He was funny man, a witty man, always making jokes. He was always happy to see me and I was always happy that he had Barbara and her husband Ryan to offer the help he always pretended he didn't want.

When War Paint came out I brought him a copy and he didn't seem to care so much that he was on the cover, but he paged through the whole book and talked to the pictures. "Oh!" he'd say, "a Marine! Hello tough guy!" I never saw him sad, and really not even nostalgic. He was proud of the past and liked to talk about it, even for someone who did so much, he lived in the now. He lived to be talking to you, right now.

When Babe died in December, Barbara didn't think Bill would live much longer. They'd been pillars for one another, they talked every day, they wrote a book about their friendship. With Babe gone, Bill could let go; and he did.

Bill on his sofa in 2007. Click to see larger.

Showing Bill the first proof of War Paint

I'm sorry he's gone. For me it was always the most tangible indicator of whether or not there were World War II veterans in the world. "They're not gone," I'd think, "Bill's still here." But they're going so quickly and their stories are going with them. I'm very glad that I had an opportunity to talk to some of these people and to write down some tiny bit of what they'd done and preserve an infinitesimal bit of who they were.

Goodbye Wild Bill.

Add me: [LiveJournal] [Facebook] [Twitter] [Google+] [Tumblr]

[User Picture]From: i
2014-03-09 06:55 pm (UTC)
that kitchen shot needs a checkerboard tablecloth.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-03-09 07:01 pm (UTC)
what you can't see in the kitchen is just to my right box upon box upon box of fan mail, thousands of letters, and he answered every one of them.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: i
2014-03-09 07:14 pm (UTC)
awesome. he was obviously a very cool dude along with having a very pattern friendly kitchen and wardrobe.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: alison_chains
2014-03-09 07:32 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry for your loss. Actually, Bill's death is everyone's loss. He was history. Thank you for sharing these stories.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: katbcoll
2014-03-09 10:24 pm (UTC)
I was so sad to see this this morning. I am also so very glad you wrote that book and that I got to hear about Wild Bill. Thank you, Kyle. Thank you.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: emcic
2014-03-09 10:30 pm (UTC)

Hail the traveler

Hail the traveler! May his journey be sweet. Hail the mighty dead!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ladycelia
2014-03-09 11:14 pm (UTC)
The world is a better place for him having been in it.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: nebris
2014-03-10 01:43 am (UTC)
Kinda like losing a favorite uncle.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: stiobhan
2014-03-10 02:28 am (UTC)
What a moving send-off.
I'm very sorry about your friend.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: xtingu
2014-03-10 02:45 am (UTC)
I'm grateful for Bill, and I'm grateful for you Kyle.
Thank you so, so much for sharing his story and so many others' stories, too.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: howeverbrief
2014-03-10 03:48 am (UTC)
Very moving.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: tericol
2014-03-10 12:32 pm (UTC)
A beautiful memorial. Thank you for sharing.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ceciskittle
2014-03-10 06:29 pm (UTC)
Something I have never told you, you knowing Bill Guarnere, is probably one of the things I envied most of all the people you know. You know my friends and family, I'm a pretty lucky person, but I have always felt that there was a special honor in knowing him, that I was secretly envious of. I'm really grateful that I got to see him through your eyes. <3
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: trillian_stars
2014-03-10 06:43 pm (UTC)
Bill was an amazing person, but so is much of that generation. It's filled with men and women secretly carrying their acts of heroism and survival with them wherever they go. And it's not yet too late to meet some of them. I used to take cello lessons from an 88 year old survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, and we'd spend the minutes between my lesson and the next student's weeping over his war memories.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ceciskittle
2014-03-10 07:02 pm (UTC)
Yes, I usually overcome my anxiety when sitting near a soldier and find a way to say thank you. I have also been wanting to go to the memorials near me with thank you notes and flowers and just randomly pass them out. Might have to finally plan a day to take the kids and do that.

Edited at 2014-03-10 07:04 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2014-03-10 06:50 pm (UTC)
Until Steven Ambrose found him, Bill was just some guy nobody had ever bothered to ask about the war. There are more like him out there, precious few, but still some. There's some organization in town that wants you to volunteer there and talk to people who have no one talking to them. There's still a chance to listen to stories.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ceciskittle
2014-03-10 07:03 pm (UTC)
That's a lovely idea. I will look into that. Thank you.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ehowton
2014-03-11 04:36 am (UTC)
My grandfather-in-law was a pilot in WWII and every Veteran's Day (we have this game he plays with myself and his grandson - calling each other "first" on 11/11) and I often hear about their numbers dwindling.

I started taking him on day trips a couple years back when he lived closer but now we only hit a couple a year. One of my favorites was the WWII Memorial Kansas State University put up - he dressed the part (his authored story about a bombing run accompanies the photos).

He's 92 in May and is looking forward to his family reunion again this year near his birth home. When he could no longer drive, he gave me his enormous Grand Marquis which I keep in good condition to ferry him around in. I'll sure miss him when he's gone.

Thanks for sharing your pictures and kind words about Bill.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ysobelle
2014-03-11 05:43 pm (UTC)
You were the first person to my mind when I read the news. I'm so sorry. He was a great man.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: wrayb
2014-03-24 05:48 am (UTC)

wild bill > sweet william

Thanks for putting this into photographs and words for us.
(Reply) (Thread)