From their rigorous training at Camp Toccoa, Easy Company of the 101st Airborne distinguished themselves time and time again.
They parachuted into Normandy as part of D-Day; they were dropped into the Netherlands in the largest airborne mission up to that time, Operation Market Garden; they held back German forces at the Belgian town of Bastogne and they took the Eagle’s Nest (Hitler’s mountain retreat) at Berchtesgaden in Germany.
A member of Easy, Staff Sergeant Bill Guarnere, passed away last week, aged 90. He was nicknamed “Wild Bill” for his fearlessness in battle – his war ended when he lost a leg during the siege of Bastogne. Here are five other facts about the extraordinary actions of the individuals that formed the Band of Brothers…
1) The highly decorated Guarnere lived up to his nickname in 1944, when he was shot in the leg by a sniper while riding a motorcycle. He was sent to England to recover but he was so worried he would be assigned to a different company he went AWOL. By putting shoe polish over his cast, he started walking out of the hospital in terrible pain but he was caught and threatened with a court-martial. He insisted he would keep going AWOL to get back to Easy so he was eventually permitted to return to his comrades.
2) Private Donald Malarkey was keen to pick up a specific souvenir in the war: a German Luger pistol. At Brecourt Manor, Malarkey thought he spotted one on the body of a soldier. He was pinned down by heavy machine gun fire but he still raced into the open field to collect his prize. He didn’t find a Luger but the Germans weren’t firing on him as they thought he was a medic! Malarkey never got his Luger in the end.
3) Technician George Luz was known to be lucky but that was never truer than at Bastogne. During a heavy bombardment, Luz was crawling for a foxhole to find cover. Two of his friends Muck and Penkala were safe in their hole calling him to get to there but he never made it. He escaped the bombing unhurt but when he checked on his friends, he saw their foxhole had taken a direct hit and Muck and Penkala were dead.
4) Lieutenant Ronald Speirs took over command of Easy during the attack on the German occupied town of Foy, Belgium. His forces were split in two, one on either side of the town with the Germans in the middle. Without a radio, Spiers ran directly through the German lines to give orders. The Germans were so baffled they didn’t fire on him. What’s more, he ran right back through to get back to his men.
5) Sergeant Earl Hale suffered horrific injuries when an SS officer cut his throat. Hale survived but with a crooked oesophagus, an injury that released him from having to wear a necktie as part of his uniform. The legendary combat leader General Patton was angered to see a soldier not in full uniform but when Hale produced his medical order, he left Patton speechless.