The decade's most triggering comedy
An American paratrooper — who once famously delivered beer to a wounded soldier in his helmet — died on Wednesday at the age of 98.
Vincent Speranza, a kid from Hell’s Kitchen who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne, Belgium, returned to the United States after World War II and spent twenty years teaching history.
Rest in Peace, Vince Speranza
23 March 1925-2 August 2023
— XVIII Airborne Corps & Fort Liberty (@18airbornecorps) August 2, 2023
But Speranza truly became a legend amongst the locals during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 — when, at the behest of another wounded soldier, he went looking for something to drink.
As Speranza explained it, his good friend Joe Willis had been wounded in battle and was among the casualties waiting for aid in the ruins of an old church building. When Willis asked for something to drink, Speranza’s initial response was to remind him that they were surrounded — but then he went looking anyway.
After a time, Speranza discovered a tapped barrel of Belgian beer in the ruins of a nearby tavern — but because all of the glasses had been destroyed in the bombings, he had no way to deliver the beer to his friend. Off came the helmet, then, and he filled it to the brim. He made several trips from the barrel to the wounded after that, delivering the drinks in his helmet.
After one such trip, he was cornered by the regimental surgeon, who asked what he was doing.
“Giving aid and comfort to the wounded,” Speranza replied.
“You stupid b*****d, don’t you know I have chest cases and stomach cases in there? You give them beer you’ll kill them,” he yelled.
Without another word, Speranza saluted and put on his helmet, which was still full of beer, and beat a hasty retreat — but “Airborne Beer” had already become legend.
Speranza only learned of his “fame” years later, telling a group at Northern Arizona University in 2021, “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.”
Speranza was one of the few American soldiers to see the inside of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” at Berchtesgaden, where he saw a color-coded map of the world showing how the Germans, Japanese, and Italians had planned to divide power after the war. “If anybody ever doubted why we had to fight that war, there it was on the wall,” he said of the experience.
Speranza also worked closely with the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne, Belgium, attending ceremonies and reunions over the years. He also continued to jump, celebrating his 98th birthday in March of 2023 with a jump from the World War II-era “Tico Belle.”
The U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, recognized Speranza’s passing, saying, “RIP WWII Veteran Vincent Speranza… The U.S Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium is heartbroken to share news of the passing of U.S. Army veteran Vincent Speranza. The entire U.S. Embassy community sends their deepest heartfelt condolences to Mr. Speranza’s family and friends. Mr. Speranza was a true inspiration to all of us and to many people across the United States and Belgium. A true force of nature, he was always present at every major ceremony commemorating the Battle of the Bulge, always ready to share stories of his service in World War II, and always humble. Thank you for your service, Mr. Speranza! You will be greatly missed, but your legacy will never be forgotten.”
RIP WWII Veteran Vincent Speranza
The U.S Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium is heartbroken to share news of the passing of U.S. Army veteran Vincent Speranza. The entire U.S. Embassy community sends their deepest heartfelt condolences to Mr. Speranza’s family and friends.
— US Embassy Brussels (@usembbrussels) August 3, 2023
Helen Patton, granddaughter of General George S. Patton, responded to the loss of her friend in a Facebook post: “He bore a lot more than he let on sometimes. The weight of all those who never came home. One had only to catch him in between the song storytelling and chuckles to see him pause thinking of them with a personal realization of war at its worst … Respect my friend. I expect to keep that friendship going without boundary and love eternal.”
Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. – General Douglas McArthur
Rest In Peace to 98-year-old PFC Vincent Speranza. Speranza, celebrated his birthday on March 2, 2023 jumping round canopy in Kay Larken Airfield in Palatka, Florida.
Vincent served in Company H, 501st… pic.twitter.com/tXn12DjGwh
— Zachary Bell (@zacharyebell) August 2, 2023