He fought in World War II with the 101st Airborne Division

Thank you for our freedom: The tearful testimony of a veteran of Bastogne

World War II had many terrible episodes of which we still have often moving stories, such as that of the soldier Vincent J. Speranza.

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A paratrooper from the famous "Screaming Eagles"

Speranza was a private first class who joined the United States Army in 1943. In November 1944 he was assigned as a replacement to Company H of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of one of the most famous units of that contest: the 101st Airborne Division, the famous "Screaming Eagles". Vincent participated in one of the toughest battles American soldiers faced in the European theater of operations: the Siege of Bastogne, in December 1944, an episode of the Battle of the Bulge in which some 11,000 Americans were surrounded in that Belgian city by some 54,000 Germans.

Vincent Speranza during a visit to the Belgian city of Bastogne, where he fought in the famous siege of December 1944 (Photo: The Veterans Site).

Carrying beer in a helmet for his wounded comrades

Vincent, who was a machine gun operator, emerged unscathed from that hard battle, dedicating himself to visiting and encouraging his wounded comrades in combat. In that mission he starred in a curious anecdote: his machine gunner's partner, Joe, was wounded by shrapnel in both legs. Vincent visited him in the field hospital that was improvised in a church in Bastogne, where there was only one doctor and one nurse to care for all the wounded: the rest of the medical staff had been killed by Germans. Vincent asked Joe if there was anything he could do for him, and his companion told him to go get something to drink. The city was in ruins, but Vincent made an effort to find a tavern, and once in it, he filled his helmet with beer.

Back at the hospital with his helmet full of beer, Vincent watered his friend Joe and other wounded soldiers who asked for it, until a major came up and asked him what he was doing: "Giving aid and comfort to the wounded, Sir," Vincent replied. The officer rebuked him, pointing out that giving them beer in their situation could kill them. He ordered him to leave the hospital, and when he was about to leave, the older man yelled at him: "Put that helmet on", Vincent answered with a "yes, sir", as he put on his helmet and the remains of beer fell on him.

The "Airborne" beer, which is served today in the Belgian city of Bastogne, bears an image alluding to the anecdote starring Vincent Speranza (Photo: Airborne Beer).

Today a beer is served in Bastoña that recalls that anecdote

Many years later, in a Bastogne tavern began to serve the "Airborne Beer", whose name refers to the aforementioned 101st Airborne Division. Served in bowls shaped like the M-1 steel helmet worn by American soldiers in World War II. The bottle is illustrated with the image of an American paratrooper carrying beer on his helmet. The United States Army learned of this and decided to investigate whether that image was inspired by a real soldier. This is how the name of Vincent Speranza, "the man with the bottle", became famous as points to this video posted by the US Army a few days ago:

The old woman and the child in the Church of San Pedro de Bastoña

In the video, Vincent recalls the scene he saw when he first entered St. Peter's Church in Bastogne, the one that served as a refuge for his wounded comrades and which still exists today: an elderly woman approached him with a little boy. The boy stepped back from her and said, "Sir, thank you for our Freedom,", then gave her the British-style palm-forward military salute. Vincent remembers that emotional moment, with a broken voice, and admits through tears: "I collapsed".

Vincent Speranza, in uniform, placing his hand on his chest during a tribute to those who fell in the Siege of Bastogne held in that Belgian city on December 13, 2015 (Photo: US Air Force Medical Service).

The ordeal of the Dachau concentration camp

One year ago, the US Army website collected Vincent's testimony, who is now 96 years old. In that article they recall the most terrible experience lived by Vincent during the war: when his men liberated the Dachau concentration camp, in which they found "dead bodies piled in a heap like garbage and an oven with human bones in it that was still hot", as well as "skeletal victims with flesh clenching to their bones who looked more dead than alive.". Weak from hunger, they used the elbows and knees to move. One crawled up to Speranza's dirty boots and said "thank you, thank you" while kissing them". Vincent comments, "Some of the guys with me sat on the ground crying." Seventy years later, the veteran still hauntsly remembers that gruesome scene.

I dedicate this entry as a small tribute to Vincent and all the men like him who fought for Freedom in World War II.

+ UPDATED 2.1.2024: I wrote this post three years ago. I now learn that Vincent J. Speranza passed away on August 2, 2023 at the age of 98. Give him, Lord, eternal rest. Let perpetual light shine upon him. Rest in peace.

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