PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This might be hard to believe, but World War Two veterans Bill Guarnere and Edward “Babe” Heffron generally don’t like Veterans Day.
You see for them, it can be a lot of work.
“We’re not teenagers any more,” jokes Guarnere. But a lot of people like stopping by to talk to these two vets, especially on this day.
During the war, Guarnere and Heffron served in Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. If that company doesn’t sound familiar, it’s probably because you know it as another name: the “Band of Brothers,” now made famous in a Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries.
“We’re just like any other person, two kids from South Philly,” says Guarnere. “I’m no hero.”
It’s been 65 years since the two fought their way across Western Europe with E Company, but this year, they find themselves fighting again: a race against time.
The pair, along with filmmaker Tim Gray and baseball great Curt Schilling, are trying to raise enough money to build a statue of their commanding officer, Major Dick Winters, at Utah Beach in Normandy. It was there that E Company, under Winters’ leadership, parachuted behind German lines and captured four big German guns above the beach, saving many lives.
The statue of Winters will be a tribute to leadership on D-Day.
Winters pulled off the attack with only about a dozen men, famously calling “Follow me!” as he led the assault. Winters, who lives now on a farm in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, is in failing health.
“That attack was so good, it was, it’s taught today at West Point,” says Guarnere. Winters “deserves it [the statue]. I think he deserves something before he dies. I don’t think he’ll be here next year, I doubt it.”
Heffron is flying to Rhode Island this weekend to attend a fundraiser for the project.
“I know that it’s deserved,” he says. “And I know he [Winters] would welcome it, but he’s too modest to tell you that.”
If you ask Heffron and Guarnere what made Winters such a great leader, they will tell you all sorts of stories. One incident came on the road to Carentan, France. The company came under heavy machine gun fire, forcing the men to take cover in trenches alongside the road.
“You couldn’t move,” says Guarnere. But “Dick’s out in the middle of the road yelling ‘Run! Attack!’ … Not a soul moved in the company. They stayed in the ditches. He got shot. Dick Winters got shot.”
No doubt, Winters is loved by the men who followed him. Heffron calls him “the greatest guy in the world.” And he says it’s easy to explain why he had such effective leadership abilities: “He took real good care of his men.”
If you’d like to donate to the statue project and accompanying documentary about Winters, you can go to this website: http://www.timgraymedia.com/donate/
Reported By: Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3