One thing I've learned over the years is that within military history there are the stories that get told many times over but there is no shortage of heroic tales from lesser known men. Vincent Speranza is one of those men with a heck of story to tell and sadly he passed on yesterday at the age of 98 but damn if that isn't one heck of a life.
His claim to fame occurred during the Battle of the Bulge, in which American troops thwarted the last major German offensive on the Western Front in a fight lasting from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 28, 1945.
Speranza found himself in a foxhole in Bastogne, Belgium. He and his fellow soldiers were running short on supplies and ammunition, and were surrounded by German forces.
A wounded friend asked Speranza for something to drink, he recalled during a visit with troops in Alaska in 2013, Stars and Stripes reported at the time.
Speranza found a working tap at a devastated tavern nearby, and he twice filled his helmet with beer to bring back to injured comrades. His act of kindness would become a celebrated tale in Belgium.
Filling his helmet, which also served as his foxhole toilet, Speranza returned to the field hospital and gave Willis and other wounded soldiers the cold brew.
“I was like an old cow you know, feeding everybody with the beer,” Speranza cheekily recounted.
The helmet soon ran dry, so Speranza made another run but soon found his exit blocked by the regimental surgeon.
“What the hell are you doing, soldier?” groused the major.
”Giving aid and comfort to the wounded,” came Speranza’s insolent reply.
“He goes, ‘You stupid bastard, don’t you know I have chest cases and stomach cases in there? You give them beer you’ll kill them.’”
Speranza quickly placed the helmet back on his head, the vestiges of beer leaking down his cheeks as he ran back to his foxhole
Residents had seen his beer-carrying mission, and years later a brewery in Bastogne created Airborne Beer, which was served in helmet-shaped ceramic bowls, Speranza’s VA biography said.
If the name of the town Bastogne sounds familiar, it is likely that you either really know your history or you've seen Band Of Brothers. The 101st Airborne being surrounded in Bastogne is the stuff of legend across the military and it was their bravery and resolve there that allowed us to maintain that stronghold.
Picture the scene in your head - you're in a foxhole, it is freezing outside to the point that you didn't know you could be that cold, and you're surrounded by the enemy. Your battle buddy is hurting and all he wants is something to drink. You pop out of your foxhole and somehow are able to secure a beer for your buddy. Imagine how good that tasted?! It's telling though isn't it? Mr. Speranza didn't worry about his own safety because caring for his friends mattered more.
“After being a machine gunner at the Battle of the Bulge, winning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star and (spending) two decades as a public school teacher, Airborne Beer is what I’m famous for,” he said.
I think it's important to make all these men as famous as possible, even the ones who don't have a beer made in their honor. It is so important to tell their stories. I worry sometimes that today's Veterans don't all have the same pride that these men felt after fighting in WWII. I worry some of them resent their own service; they absolutely should not.
Anyway, if Mr. Speranza's name sounds familiar it is also possible you came across this video in 2016.
If that doesn't illicit chills, check your pulse.
During these tough times in our country, it's important that we keep the memories of these men alive.
If you're interested, I am currently breaking down Band Of Brothers and giving recaps episode by episode.