Joe Toye: “You got a smoke?”
Donald Malarkey: “Yeah.”
Toye: “Jesus. What’s a guy gotta do to get killed around here?”
Medic Eugene Roe: “Bill, you’re going first.”
Bill Guarnere: “Whatever you say, Doc. Whatever you say.”
Roe: “Over here! Take this man.”
Guarnere: “Hey, Lip, they got old Guarnere this time.”
Stretcher bearer: “We got you, soldier. Just lie back.”
Guarnere: “Hey, Joe, I told you I’d beat you back to the States.”
— Band of Brothers
That light-hearted scrap of badinage occurred on January 3, 1945, between two soldiers of Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere. Just seconds before, each had lost his right leg to German artillery, and they lay bleeding profusely into the snow among the trees of the Ardennes. Toye was hit first, and despite the barrage Guarnere rushed out to try to pull him to safety, and was doing so when his own leg was blown off.
The dialogue, which I’ve taken from the TV series “Band of Brothers,” may seem like typical Hollywood B.S. — guys lying around cracking wise and bumming cigarettes after receiving horrific wounds. But it follows fairly closely the account in Stephen Ambrose’s book, based on interviews with men who were there. Joe Toye and Bill Guarnere were a couple of tough monkeys.
Both had been wounded before. Toye had been knocked about by two hand grenades within minutes of each other that should have killed him on D-Day, but walked away unmarked. That same day, his buddy “Gonorrhea” earned the sobriquet “Wild Bill” for the ferocity with which he attacked the Germans — he had just learned, hours before jumping into Normandy, that his elder brother had been killed at Monte Cassino.
A native of South Philly, Guarnere was sort of the guy in Easy (or one of them) who filled the role of the stereotypical brash, streetwise Italian city boy from war movies.The kind of guy who alleges that his commanding officer who chews him out for killing Germans before being given the word to fire is some kinda Quaker or something, elaborating that without a doubt “He ain’t Catholic… he don’t even drink!”
Bill may have beat Joe back to the States, but Joe was the first to leave on life’s final evacuation, passing away in 1995.
Over the weekend, just a month shy of his 91st birthday, Bill Guarnere followed him.
There are only 18 members of Easy Company left alive.