For true Band of Brothers fans, "Wild Bill" Guarnere and "Babe" Heffron need no introduction. Although the foreword by actor Tom Hanks is a sincere and fitting tribute (both men think very highly of Hanks), it was not necessary to help promote this wonderfully written book. Journalist Robyn Post gives us Heffron and Guarnere in the rough with South Philly colloquialisms in tact. Five years in the making, _Brothers in Battle Best of Friends_ (a more fitting title would be impossible to conjure) joins the memoirs of Dick Winters, David Kenyon Webster, Donald R. Burgett, and a host of other histories of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II.
Post brings her readers right into the men's living rooms. One gets the impression that Bill and Babe are sitting across from them in an easy chair sipping a beer, recounting their amazing experiences. Post arranges the book nicely. Though both men grew up only blocks apart in South Philly, they would not meet until Babe joined Easy Company in England after the Normandy battles. Recognizing Babe's South Philly accent (for those who ever had a friend from Philly, you know the accent) the men became fast friends. Guarnere ensured Babe was placed in Joe Toye's squad because he knew Toye would take care of "the dirty rat." Both men soldiered through Holland, the bitter cold and horrendous fighting at Bastogne where both Toye and Guarnere were horribly wounded by the same artillery round and both men lost a leg. Babe then carries the narrative to war's end, while Bill recounts his journey through recovery and the physical and mental readjustments he overcame, all the while "just happy to be alive." Chapters on the men's lives and sixty-two year enduring friendship after the war, their travels back to Europe today, and an Epilogue written by actors Frank John Hughes and Robin Laing ("Bill" and "Babe" respectively) round out the book.
Like the memoirs of Winters and Webster, the book ties up loose ends created by both the written and film versions of Band of Brothers. For example, in the film, Guarnere, played by Hughes goes AWOL from hospital to return to Easy Company just prior to heading to Bastogne. Winters advises Guarnere about taking any more "joy rides" and the film leaves it at that. In the book, Guarnere recounts having been previously shot in the leg by a sniper while riding across an open field on a motorcycle in Holland to check on his men (a scene that would have been an exciting addition to the film). Heffron, never forgetting his Catholic school upbringing, recounts his personal feelings during the liberation of the Landsburg concentration camp, and listening to his inner voice that stopped him from throwing a hand grenade into a house in Germany. Breaking down the door with his rifle butt, Heffron discovered a terrified mother and her small children crouched in a corner. Heffron is still haunted with the thought of what would have happened had he thrown the grenade.
Bill and Babe's message is crystal clear, however: war is hell, and the men do not attempt to sugarcoat that fact. The grim reality of shooting German POWs, alluded to in the film is further confirmed within these pages. Today, when a youngster writes a letter to the pair stating he wants to go off to war and bee "heroes" like them, Bill and Babe reply with an astonished "What? Are you crazy?" Both men survived some of the most brutal combat of World War II, and not a day goes by that they do not think of the friends that were killed. Both men's dry humor shines through as well, and one finds oneself laughing hysterically on one page and welling up in tears on the next. Guarnere repeatedly emphasizes that World War II was won through a team effort of all the combined services, and that he and Babe were just two individual members of that enormous team. Two guys from South Philly, imparting a lifetime of wisdom that we can all benefit from. This book is a must read, and one that will reach further than a circle of loyal Band of Brothers fans!
proud son of Sgt. Nicholas Canellis
Company M, 13th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division
March 1941-September 1945 266 days in combat