Once part of ‘Band of Brothers,’ South Philly World War II vets to live on in bronze
Two World War II veterans from South Philadelphia, who parachuted with Easy Company into Europe to combat German forces in 1944, will be honored next year with separate bronze statues.
William “Wild Bill” Guarnere and Edward “Babe” Heffron, both depicted in the television miniseries “Band of Brothers,” will not be memorialized together.
They were meant to be cast together. When the 90-year-old vets died less than a year ago, just a few months apart, City Councilman Jim Kenney envisioned a statue of both of them. He brought in sculptor Terry Jones to conceive a sculpture of Guarnere and Heffron as young men, in uniform, standing on a typical South Philadelphia rowhouse stoop.
“The thing you think of is the marble steps, and people cleaning them on a Sunday morning, scrubbing them,” said Jones, who had met the pair when he was young, asking for their autographs at the Reading Air Show.
Heffron’s daughter, Patricia Zavrel, was initially hesitant.
“My father always said, during the war he did a lot of what other men did,” said Zavrel. “It was many thousands of Americans and Englishmen and Frenchmen – it was a huge effort. He never liked to be called a hero.”
Zavrel was sold on the idea when Kenney explained to her the sculpture’s intention would be to inspire the youth of Philadelphia, who might see themselves in the two strapping 19-year-olds about to go to war.
The sculpture would also be humble. Heffron’s likeness, to be erected in a playground at Second and Reed streets, would not be oversized, but life-sized. He stood just 5 foot 4.
“I wanted to keep it simple,” said Zavrel. “You know, he was just a South Philly guy from Second Street. Just a neighborhood guy.”
The children of Bill Guanere had different ideas. Guanere lost his right leg in combat while pulling another soldier to safety. He used a wooden leg until the 1960s, then decided to forgo prosthetics entirely and only use crutches. That’s how his son Gene wants wants him remembered.
“Would you see Abraham Lincoln as a young man, or Rocky Balboa?” said Gene Guarnere. “Everyone that knew my father, knew him on crutches.”
Guarnere disagreed with the sculpture Kenney proposed, so he set out to depict his father the way he saw fit. He was contacted by sculptor Chad Fisher, who was interested in designing a bronze statue free of charge.
“Bill Guarnere did not wear a prosthetic leg, and was proud of the sacrifice he made in World War II, losing his leg saving a fellow soldier,” said Fisher. “The family was not interested in representing Bill Guarnere with both legs. They wanted to represent him as the older vet standing on crutches.”
Fisher is at work shaping a sculpture of that vision, while Councilman David Oh assists in a search for a site in Center City.
On Tuesday evening, a fundraiser for the Heffron statue is set at his favorite watering hold, the Irish Pub at 12th and Walnut streets. A fundraising event for the Guarnere statue is in the planning stages.
Aside from the “Angel of the Resurrection” statue inside 30th Street Station in honor of 1,300 railroad workers who died in combat, there is no public World War II memorial in Philadelphia.
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