Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Two local WWII heroes will be honored in bronze

Seventy years ago, he parachuted into a ferocious gun battle raging across the town square of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Everywhere, buildings were ablaze and bullets zipped through the air.

World War II veterans Bill Guamere (left) and "Babe" Heffron.
World War II veterans Bill Guamere (left) and "Babe" Heffron.Read more

Seventy years ago, he parachuted into a ferocious gun battle raging across the town square of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Everywhere, buildings were ablaze and bullets zipped through the air.

Army Sgt. William "Wild Bill" Guarnere couldn't wait to get into the fight during the Normandy invasion and avenge his brother Henry, killed by the Germans in Italy.

He later parachuted into Holland with fellow South Philadelphia native Edward "Babe" Heffron during Operation Market Garden, one the largest drops of airborne troops in history.

They also fought together during the Battle of the Bulge, where Guarnere lost a leg to artillery fire while trying to save a comrade.

But Wild Bill and Babe - portrayed in the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers - probably never thought they'd also be portrayed in bronze in their hometown.

Their families and friends have been raising money for two statue projects.

Heffron, who died in 2013 at 90, will be honored in a piece to be dedicated Sept. 17 - anniversary of the Holland operation - in the neighborhood where he grew up, at Second and Reed Streets.

His platoon sergeant, Guarnere, who died this year at 90, will be remembered in a statue to be dedicated June 6 - anniversary of the D-Day invasion, dubbed Operation Overlord.

Though a location has not been decided, it will likely be near the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Philadelphia Korean War Memorial at Penn's Landing, organizers said.

Guarnere and Heffron's "generation was the best generation," said Guarnere's granddaughter Debi Rafferty, a nurse who lives in Broomall. "Gramps went to fight for his country, and he lost a leg trying to save a buddy. He represents that generation."

An eight-foot-tall likeness of Guarnere, weighing more than 1,300 pounds, is being created by sculptor Chad Fisher at a reduced fee at his studio and foundry in Dillsburg, near Harrisburg.

Fisher has completed a bust, which will be offered to a donor for $5,000, and a 14-inch-tall model of the statue for a donor who gives $1,500. The whole project will cost about $60,000, Fisher said.

"The family didn't want [William Guarnere] depicted as a young man, looking like GI Joe," said the sculptor, who has completed bronzes of Steve Sabol, the late president and cofounder of NFL Films, and Fred Shero, the famed Philadelphia Flyers coach. "They wanted him as an older war veteran.

"Bill was very proud of the sacrifice he made and preferred not to use a prosthetic leg," Fisher said.

Guarnere will be shown in uniform, standing tall on one leg and crutches, he said. "It's harder to pick out someone who has been more honorable," Fisher said. "If you're going to memorialize someone, you want it to be in bronze."

Guarnere and Heffron wrote Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers From the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story with journalist Robyn Post in 2007.

The two veterans reconnected in late 1945 when Heffron walked to Guarnere's house to check on his old sergeant. The two went out for a beer and became inseparable.

In honoring them later, though, different ideas emerged when it came to portraying them in bronze. Guarnere's family saw Wild Bill as an older veteran, proud of his service, but Heffron's family saw Babe as a young soldier preparing to leave for war.

The Heffron statue is being made by Terry Jones, one of the nation's foremost historical sculptors, who also completed monuments to Gen. John Gibbon at Gettysburg, John Philip Sousa at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, and Lt. Gen. Chesty Puller at the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va.

In his latest work, "Babe is a 20-year-old soldier in uniform and getting ready to ship out," said Jones, who is working on the figure - standing 5-foot-7 - at his Newtown Square studio. "This could be his last time at home.

"He's standing with one foot on South Philly steps with a wrought-iron railing, and he's looking out at the viewer," he said. "People will be able to walk up to him and put their arm around him."

The statue will be placed at the Herron playground at Second and Reed Streets, near the area where Heffron grew up and later raised a family.

"The hope is that the statue will serve as a point of inspiration for young Philadelphians that they can accomplish anything they set out to, just as Babe did," said Betsy Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Foundation, which is overseeing the money donated for the project.

The statue, foundation, site preparation, landscaping, and two flagpoles are expected to cost about $100,000, said Richard Lazer, special events coordinator for Philadelphia Councilman James F. Kenney, who has been helping the family with the project.

"I think it's important to remember these two guys [Heffron and Guarnere]," Kenney said. "At age 19 and 20, they left their country for the first time to face off against arguably the strongest military force ever assembled, and won.

"They saved democracy for generations. I think the message to our twentysomethings today is, if they can accomplish great things, you can accomplish great things."

For Information

A fund-raiser for the Heffron statue is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Irish Pub, 1123 Walnut St. in Philadelphia. It will include appetizers, drink specials, music, and raffle prizes. Tickets are $50 per person. Call 215-520-6953 for details. Donations can be made to the Philadelphia Foundation, 1234 Market St., Suite 1800, Phila. 19107. Write "Babe Heffron Memorial Fund" in the memo line.

A fund-raiser for the Guarnere statue is scheduled to be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Jan. 16 at Popi's Italian restaurant at 3120 S. 20th St. in Philadelphia. The event includes hors d'oeuvres, a cash bar, raffles, and an auction of autographed memorabilia. Tickets are $50 per person. Contact Debi Rafferty at 215-389-3094.


856-779-3833 InkyEBC