#
The blog of New York Times bestselling author MARCUS BROTHERTON ADVENTURERS, POETS, WARRIORS, YOU
AS SEEN IN:
  • The Washington Post Logo
  • The New York Times Logo
  • The Wall Street Journal Logo
  • BBC World News Logo
  • Patheos Logo PBS Logo
  • Manliness logo

Remembering Edward ‘Babe’ Heffron (1923-2013)

Dec 03, 2013 // By Marcus Brotherton

Edward Babe HeffronEdward ‘Babe’ Heffron, one of the original Band of Brothers died Sunday December 1, 2013, one week after the death of his friend and fellow paratrooper Earl McClung. Babe was 90.

I never interviewed Babe formally. He’d already released his life story along with his friend and coauthor Bill Guarnere in their book (written with journalist Robyn Post) Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends. But I did meet Babe in 2010, which I wrote about a few years back.

Rather than recount the details of Babe’s life in an obituary, I want to run this essay again today in his honor. It speaks to his strong character, to the man of valor he was, and to how Babe Heffron led well.

***

—What Won Babe Heffron’s Respect—

Two summers ago I found myself at a book signing event seated alongside seven of the original Band of Brothers, the men of Easy Company who have become symbols of heroism in World War II.

I sat near the tail end of a long table. The men and I were on one side, and a crowd of well wishers on the other. The line of people in Pennsylvania that day waiting for autographs and to shake hands with the men stretched for—literally—an hour in the hot sun.

To my left sat William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, and to my right sat Edward “Babe” Heffron. To tell you I felt out of place between two legendary WWII heroes as well as with the rest of the men in that lineup is an understatement. But two of my books were there, being frequently passed down the line and signed by the vets. Thus I sat, scribbled my name, and kept my mouth shut.

4. Jan 25, Babe, Marcus, BillAfter a few hours, Mr. Guarnere announced he’d had enough. He doesn’t sit well for long. Wild Bill gathered his crutches and left for beers with a woman half his age. He’s a colorful figure, which you know if ever you’ve seen him. A larger-than-life American hero. 

Babe Heffron signed for the rest of the day, pausing only to debate baseball and curse anyone who wasn’t a Phillies fan. Babe is less flamboyant than Bill, and bluntly authentic, with never a hint of pretense to anyone in line.

We spoke directly a few times, Babe and me.

Babe asked who I was and why I was there. When I showed him my book, he raised an eyebrow. “Well, good for you,” he said, his voice like gravel. 

When people in line kept calling him “Mr. Heffron,” and he kept saying, “Just call me Babe,” I said, “Mr. Heffron was your father’s name.” And Babe laughed. “That’s a good one,” he said. “I’ll have to remember that.”

After a dozen autograph seekers had looked disappointed and asked Babe where was “his good buddy Bill,” I said, “I’m curious if you get tired of being asked that.” And Babe grinned wryly. Bill and Babe are best of friends—(read their book)—but there was transparency in Babe’s eyes, too. You could tell that the same question repeated so many times had irked him.

I left the lineup early and went to secure a wheelchair for one of the vets who’d been having difficulty walking. I had been helping this man throughout the weekend of the event.

As I headed back to the signing table from the holding station where the wheelchairs were kept, Babe was already headed for the street, homeward bound. He was surrounded by well-wishers and he walked with confident, easy strides.

When he spotted me, he broke away, headed over to me and shook my hand, then kept going without another word.

I’d like to think we connected that day, a military hero and a young author, signing books together in the Pennsylvania summertime.

Yet I doubt if the connection was forged by the books or the jokes or even the deeper question I’d asked and Babe had been gracious enough to field. Because there’s one more important thing to tell about that day.

I think it’s what won Babe Heffron’s respect in the end. It speaks highly of the type of man he is, and the depth of brotherhoods he’s formed over the years. And I mention this last bit of the story out of tribute to Babe, not me.

The man who helps Babe travel, a man who knows Babe well, pulled me aside and said, “Babe doesn’t do that, you know. He doesn’t shake hands like that with just anyone.”

“I wonder why he did that for me,” I asked, and shrugged.

The man pointed to the wheelchair. “Because you’re taking care of his friend.”

–In honor of Edward Babe Heffron (1923-2013)–

Babe H

***

Update:

Tony Coulter, a good friend of Babe’s, sent me the following pictures and comments that help show some of the many sides of Babe’s life.

img419The first picture (above) was taken after a 9/11 memorial where Bill and Babe had appeared. Tony wrote, “I think the most important thing he would want said is ‘The real heroes of war are the mothers who wait and know nothing about their sons, until there is a visit or a telegram. That is heroism! We were just doing our job.’”

Tony wrote, “It was important to him that children know the horror of war. ‘Don’t believe all that John Wayne stuff,’ Babe would say. He was loved by more people—and he touched more people’s lives for good—that we will ever know. His example of how to treat people will live long after we are gone.

Babe’s son-in-law-said in an article that, “he was Old School, and if there is an old school, well Babe was principal”.

Bill abd Babe at the Norfolk reunion. 2004The second picture was taken by Tony Coulter at the Easy Company Reunion in Norfolk, VA, in 2004. Babe was always proud of his Irish Heritage.

Tony wrote, “I think he would like the world to see this. Myself, his son-in-law Ed Zavrel, and Kevin MacNeil went out the afternoon of the Easy banquet. While walking back to the hotel we saw this hat and purchased it for him. Babe loved it immediately.”

***

  • I remember reading this post when you originally published it. Very touching to read this again now. Babe will never be forgotten. Thanks to men like him, I can now live in freedom. Rest in Peace sir.

  • David L. Anderson

    I have had the great privilege of meeting Buck Compton’s daughters, Syndee and Tracy. Through them I learned of the strength, nature and character of their Dad. Further exposure to information about others from Easy Company has followed, though I never had the honor of meeting them. It is with deep respect and appreciation of these brave and powerful men, who I can’t thank enough, I add my thoughts. Rest in highly deserved peace, Edward Babe Heffron and Earl McClung.

  • Curt Parker

    I had the joy of meeting Don Malarkey several years ago, a meeting I will cherish for the rest of my life. Guys like Babe, Bill, and Don are an inspiration to a nation in need of inspiration. With great courage and honor, they fought and won a great battle against evil. We are forever indebted to them.

  • victoryspeedway

    Losing our WWII Heroes makes me feel as if the ground beneath me was crumbling. I will meet these gentlemen in Heaven and I will spend a lifetime thanking them.

  • johnboy

    Genuine people from that generation. I have been reading about the firing percentage of soldiers during WWII. Only about 20% fired their guns or directly at the enemy. I don’t believe the elite forces like the Airborne had that luxury they were trained well and knew what they had to do even if it meant taking a life. Most of them probably had problems the rest of their life. As years went by the military made firing at the enemy a reflex action and you can see the results in Vietnam Veterans. God Bless you Babe, you are joining your other BOB’s in heaven.

  • David

    I had the great privilege a few years ago of spending a week with six Easy Company veterans including “Babe”. Marcus nailed it when he described Babe as “bluntly authentic” and without pretense. Babe and those other five men are my heroes yet they made me feel like one of them. We shared stories only Soldiers can understand – they told me about Bastogne, Holland, The Eagles Nest, and what it was like to go into a concentration camp and I talked about Iraq and today’s wars. To say meeting those men was a highlight of my life is a gross understatement. The world is a better place because of men like Babe and sadly they are slipping away from us now. I will never forget Babe, Bill, Buck, Forrest, Don, and Clancy. Rest in peace – it was an honor to spend a little time with you.

  • Gary Sedgwick

    Many thanks for informing us of Babe’s death. The news will often ignore many of the WW II deaths and you keep is informed of the Band of Brothers and others via your blog. I re-read Brothers in Battle-Best of Friends. It is amazing how Babe and Wild Bill keep in touch after the war and traveled to Europe to visit military grave sites and other memorials. Their Brothers in Arms were special to the heroes many years after the war ended and never forgot names and battle information. The book pulls no punches on people where they relieved the cities and other members of their squadron. For individuals who had the opportunity to visit with members of the Band of Brothers + other soldiers you are very fortunate. I tried to see Malarkey, but missed him by day as he was 60 miles from my home, but our family was leaving for a vacation. I liked Bills and Babe’s statements that the war was won by all of the services and the heroes are mothers who waited for their sons and daughters to return. Some did not make it.
    gary

  • Pingback: Dirt Track Digest » Blog Archive » Racin’ & Different Stuff By Tom Avenengo Volume # 164 12/12/2013()

  • The Washington Post Logo
  • The New York Times Logo
  • The Wall Street Journal Logo
  • BBC World News Logo
  • Patheos Logo PBS Logo
  • Manliness logo

HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.