The Unveiling of Our Hero Reawakens American Pride
Saturday September 19, 2015 was not an ordinary fall day in Delaware County; it was a day of celebration as the 8’ Bronze Statue of Wild Bill Guarnere, by sculptor Chad Fisher, found a home at the Delaware County Veterans Memorial. Chad was able to capture the energy, the spirit and the courage of not just Wild Bill, but also of those men who he stood so proudly with from Easy Company. The statue is a testament to the true grit and determination of America’s greatest generation and an awe-inspiring tribute to a man always willing to share his heart. The statue also speaks to the values Bill instilled in his family: bravery, decency, love for one’s self and others and American pride. For those present at the unveiling, the statue became a symbol of hope as Bill’s quiet strength seemed to capture our hearts.
The ceremony began with the talented James Clark of Ridley High School. He has become a good friend to the Wild Bill Guarnere Memorial Fund and once again gifted us with his voice. It was a heartfelt rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that told the story of what patriotism is all about. James reawakened the love and devotion we have for America and America’s greatest heroes!
As hundreds gathered including veterans and local officials, we seemed banded together as we stood strong in unity for our hero and our country. It was that feeling of patriotism that is often missing from today’s world. In some respects I felt like I had stepped back in time a time when personal responsibility was a trait all sought to achieve, a time when self-sacrifice for your community and country was the norm, a time when hard work brought personal pride and was not looked at as punishment; a time when we didn’t view everything we owned as disposable and a time when you shook another man’s hand and truly believed his word was gold.
These were the values the Greatest Generation embodied and were captured by Delaware County Council Chairman Mario Civera, when he remarked, "It was a generation of courage, a generation of determination…" He added that Wild Bill, "displayed it, he loved it because he believed in the cause."
Philadelphia Councilman David Oh echoed those sentiments when he said the day was "a great tribute to the Americans that put on the uniform" to ensure our freedoms and those of others around the world.
To ensure the values Wild Bill personified on a daily basis would live for generations to come, former state Rep. Bryan Lentz of Swarthmore presented a $5,000 check on behalf of Roy Leitstein of the 101st Airborne. The check was earmarked for the Wild Bill Guarnere Education Project. The program will be handled by the Delaware County Historical Society in its civic education program for students in elementary through college aged. As a special part of the ceremony, a student of the program Marisa Sankey read her poem, "A Banner Held High."
As the sun shined upon the still veiled statue I found myself in a moment of reflection after being reminded by so many attendees that Wild Bill cast a big shadow- always bright and always welcoming. When Bill’s eldest granddaughter, Debi Rafferty took the podium; she captivated the audience’s attention with complete ease. Her speech was both well-delivered and impressive; leaving the audience to behold in the moment as she told the story of her hero, everyone’s hero. Debi’s combination of humor, emotion and imagery truly welcomed everyone. She joked at the beginning that Wild Bill gave great speeches and she wasn’t sure if she could "fill his shoe."
Her passion and charisma brought the speech to life as she began:
"Today is a special day. It is a day of honor and respect; it is a day of celebration, it is a day to celebrate a hero."
Debi referenced the Christopher Reeve quote:"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."
She then added, "That was Gramps. Nothing could keep him down. He was filled with a determination, a love of life and family and an extremely generous spirit."
Wild Bill inspired Debi every day, and now she was inspiring the audience. She spoke of the lessons Wild Bill taught not only her, but his entire family; lessons about hard work, responsibility, laughter and pride. She explained, "I am proud to be part of a country that someone would respect enough to willingly endanger their life to protect our values." She added, her grandfather’s "bravery and commitment to preserving the ideas of our country guided his every day life, yet often went unmentioned. Without his sacrifices and those of the men he served with, the world we know now would be drastically changed."
Her tribute struck a chord with the audience, and although many eyes were filled with tears, they were tears of pride. Many realized that Debi’s words empowered them to remember the things in life that are really important.
As Debi’s speech came to a close, comic relief swooped in and stole the stage. Gene Guarnere, Wild Bill’s son delivered a speech that brought about belly laughs from the crowd. He painted a picture of what life was like growing up with Wild Bill. In speaking about his father, Gene said that his dad was a great swimmer, and would put his brother or him on his back and start swimming. He then added, that kids always asked about his Dad’s leg and he would tell them a shark got it and would instruct, "If you find it, let me know."
Gene also reminisced, "He wore a wooden leg. It was actually wood. You could make a table out of it, that’s how hard it was." Gene had the crowd laughing when he added, so when dad would come home from work at Terminix we said, ‘Listen, Dad, you can’t bring any termites home.’"
Just before the unveiling, Wild Bill’s great granddaughter, Gianna Anthony, performed God Bless America as the crowd joined her. There was something truly beautiful listening to the innocence of this young lady’s voice that made me realize that freedom is worth fighting and dying for.
It was then time for the reason we were all present. The Guarnere family was invited to the statue as Lee Greenwood’s Proud To Be An American began playing. Wild Bill’s great children assisted Gene in unveiling the master piece. And just like Wild Bill’s personality, the statue was bigger than life. As the covering fell to the ground the audience immediately realized that The Wild Bill Guarnere 8’ bronze statue had become the crowning feature of the Delaware County Veterans Memorial. The sheer size of the statue was overwhelming as was the likeness to Wild Bill. Debi pointed out that right down to the creases in his pants and his Velcro shoe; Chad Fisher had hand crafted perfection. Regardless of your viewing angle, this statue holds a commanding presence that just can’t be missed. I know that looking at the size of the hands on the statue spoke volumes to me about the warmth, the strength and the bravery of this American hero. I heard someone comment that they could not imagine a better tribute to a man so willing to give to others.
Something caught my eye as crowds flocked the statue for photos and a closer look- a young boy about six years old simply looking up and pointing to the statue. At that moment my eyes filled with tears as I realized in less than ten minutes, Wild Bill had already begun to inspire future generations.
Following the ceremony, attendees were treated to lite fare provided by Double Edge Sports Grille.
The Guarnere family wishes to thank everyone who has been on this journey from the beginning. They want you to know that because of you, this day happened!
This is Sandee Hart signing out From the Trenches. Stay tuned for the publication of the speeches and reflections from other attendees.
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