Leadership Lessons of the Happy Few | An Introduction
March 31, 2014
Authors: Neal Rossow and Brandon Rossow
……We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother……(Henry V; Act 4, Scene 3 by Shakespeare)
William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, was a paratrooper during WWII, made famous, along with his fellow E Company soldiers, by Steven Ambrose in his book Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (1992). Later, Guarnere and his comrades rose to national prominence when HBO adapted the work into their miniseries Band of Brothers. The ten-part series chronicled the soldiers from their training in Toccoa, GA, through their combat actions in the European Theater of Operation to the final disbanding of the 101st Airborne Division after the surrender of the Germans. Guarnere rose from a fresh recruit to Staff Sergeant, garnering a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts in his three years of service.
The members of the “Greatest Generation,” have always fascinated me and contributed to my understanding of leadership, especially their exploits during combat in World War II. This war became almost mythical in nature due to the evil perpetrated by the Nazi Party and the courage of those who resisted them both domestically and from outside nations. It’s easy to view many of the soldiers who served during this era as heroes who embody so many of the qualities we hope to see in ourselves: loyalty, service, integrity, honor, duty, humility, and sacrifice. These characteristics are the cornerstones of our own ethical tradition in policing. They are the forces that drive our performance in both our professional and our private lives.
“Wild Bill” was a humble warrior who minimized his own courage and bravery, always insisting that the only true heroes of the war were the soldiers who never came home. According to his family, like so many of his generation, "Wild Bill" didn't talk about his service, but it was exemplary. He was wounded twice. The first time was in October 1944 during combat in Holland near the Rhine River. Sent to England to recover from his injuries, he harbored a deep fear shared by many others who were members of E Company that his injury might cause him to be reassigned. This fear was strong enough that it drove him to go AWOL from the hospital where he was being treated, painting his cast with shoe polish in an attempt to “escape” back to the front. While he was ultimately discovered, court-martialed and demoted (a penalty which was never enforced due to a breakdown in paperwork between England and the 101st), he demonstrated incredible loyalty to the other members of E Company. In fact, his response to the entire event was to divulge that he planned on going AWOL again as soon as he was able, in order to rejoin his fellows.
A few short months after Guarnere rejoined his unit, he and E Company were involved in the Battle of the Bulge. While taking heavy artillery fire near Foy, Belgium, his unit mate and buddy Joe Toye lost his leg in an explosion. Guarnere shielded his immobilized friend from the continued shelling using his own body, losing his own right leg in a subsequent impact.
Guarnere received his Silver Star for his actions on D-Day when he was a squad leader in a small unit led by Lt. Dick Winters (who we will talk about in future articles). Their assault on a much larger number of German soldiers who were defending four 105 Howitzers at a farm called Brecourt Manor became famous, and the battle plan they employed is still used at West Point as an example of small squad tactics against a far superior force.
I have been studying and teaching leadership for many years. Part of my own leadership style came from watching my supervisors and department leaders as they dealt and interacted with their subordinates. I also began to research literature to improve my leadership skills as a newly promoted police sergeant. There were and are many books about leadership. Some of them talked about leadership qualities in the world of business and some looked at successful military leaders. I felt I could benefit from both sources to improve my own leadership skills. I continued to research leadership points as I began to teach the topic to other police supervisors and personnel.
Band of Brothers provides many examples of good and bad leadership. Bill Guarnere was a perfect example of the first line supervisors that led men into combat during one of the most difficult times in our country’s history. His loyalty was so strong that he risked his own safety numerous times to save his comrades. While his obvious heroism and sacrifice might rise above what most police supervisors are called upon to exhibit, perhaps his greatest moments as a leader came at times that posed less obvious danger but required just as much personal courage. These were the occasions that Guarnere chose to publicly challenge decisions made by his own supervisors which he felt endangered the men he was responsible for. That aspect of “moral leadership” is something we’ll visit in detail later in this series, but it is often overlooked when the topic is discussed.
In future articles, we will talk about leadership topics demonstrated by the men of E Company from the Band of Brothers. The military has always been a good source of information on leadership. I believe if a man can lead others into combat, where their subordinates may be killed or wounded, those techniques can be used to supervise and lead police officers.
RIP “Wild Bill.”
William “Wild Bill” Guarnere passed away on March 8, 2014 in his home city of Philadelphia, PA. Governor Tom Corbett honored him with a statewide half-staff order to recognize his contributions to his country.