Late World War II Army veterans Edward “Babe” Heffron and William “Wild Bill” Guarnere were reunited last weekend on the streets of Pennsport.
Though the South Philly-born soldiers, who inspired the 2001 HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” passed away in recent years, the city has erected a monument in their memories at Herron Playground, 2nd and Reed streets, in the neighborhood the heroes called home.
While the bronze statue of “Babe” was installed a few years ago, “Wild Bill” was unveiled during a community ceremony on Saturday morning.
Veterans, neighbors and city officials, alongside the Heffron and Guarnere families, took over Two Street to celebrate local men whose impact resonated on a global scale.
“We paratroopers, those who serve, we stand on their shoulders, and they’re giants,” said Municipal Court President Judge Patrick F. Dugan, an Army veteran. “Two ordinary men from South Philadelphia and they stood up to Hitler. They stood up to the fascists. They stood up to the imperialists.”
Though the “brothers” grew up only a few blocks away from one another, Heffron and Guarnere did not actually meet until they were on the battlefronts in Northern Europe.
Heffron, a private in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, contributed to the capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Germany, among many other courageous acts.
Guarnere, a sergeant in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, parachuted into Normandy, France during the D-Day Allied Invasion 75 years ago.
“We focus so much attention on storming the beaches of Normandy, but we also need to remember, too, the initial airborne operations behind enemy lines,” said Army veteran Carlo L. Aragoncillo, director of the city’s Veterans Advisory Commission. “So, for folks like Babe and Bill – for them to come together again…They really paved the way. Not just for folks like me. Not just for folks like Judge Dugan here but really for the future generations that are still serving and coming out of service.”
Both men helped to liberate Son and Eindhoven, Holland in Operation Market Garden.
Heffron was given a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his services.
Guarnere, whose brother Henry died fighting in Italy, lost his right leg while saving a comrade in Bastogne, Belgium during the winter of 1944. He was later awarded a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
“There were small groups of men who were doing some unbelievable things in some horrible conditions, but what they did was they stopped tyranny,” Dugan said. “They saved the world. These two men are back here today. They saved the world. Them and their brothers. We are a nation that we are today because of men like these two who are joined together.”
Over the last few years, Mayor Jim Kenney led the Babe Heffron Memorial Fund, under the Philadelphia Foundation, in its execution of the bronze monument outside of Herron Playground.
Through Kenney’s leadership, the city appropriated capital dollars to the multi-year project, which was designed by sculptor Terry Jones.
“The original concept that the mayor had was to show to young people here in South Philadelphia that these two young men – Bill and Babe – answered the call, went into service, fought in the battles and succeeded in helping to make the entire world a safer place by defeating the German army,” Jones said.
The “Babe” statue, which was unveiled in 2015, actually encases Heffron’s ashes in a bronze heart inside of the sculpture.
Four years later “Wild Bill,” which is also bronze, has been placed across from “Babe,” as the two veterans stand on a small set of stairs facing 2nd Street.
“This monument took five years to complete, and it will be here for at least 500 years,” Jones said. “It was an honor to be given the task and I hope that I have succeeded.”
As the ceremony concluded, members from the Heffron and Guarnere families officially unveiled the completed memorial.
While the sculptures honor the legacies of Heffron and Guarnere, the monument is dedicated to all current and former military members of South Philadelphia and across the world.
“Generations of Philadelphians will now be able to visit these statues dedicated to war heroes and close friends who bravely served their country,” Kenney said. “They’ll be able to remember and honor Wild Bill and Babe as well as the many active duty and veteran soldiers who have risked their lives to keep all of us safe.”