Soldiers who are injured during battle can be comforted with things that help them relax and think of home. During a World War II battle, an injured soldier requested a drink to help calm his nerves. The lengths one buddy went to get him that drink is a tale that is still told decades later.
The Siege of Bastogne
By December of 1944, the Allied forces were winning the war. Germany, though, was not going down without a fight. Thus began the Battle of the Bulge. As a secondary part of the battle, Axis forces were attempting to take the town of Bastogne in Belgium. The Allies had liberated Bastogne in September of 1944. Adolf Hitler believed that if he could retake the town, he could cut off his opponent’s access to Antwerp, a key strategic port.
The German attack does tremendous damage
Vincent Speranza was a member of the 101st Airborne, 501st Parachute Infantry Company. The 501st were famed for their skill and bravery. In fact, it is said that the group was the first to yell, “Geronimo,” before jumping from the plane.
Speranza, along with the rest of his division was in Bastogne when the Germans began their sneak attack. While the Germans rained fire down on the town, the Allied troops attempted to hold the area until reinforcements could back them up. George S. Patton was on his way with the Third Army, but they took nearly a week to get there. When the Germans asked the American troops to surrender, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe simply replied, “Nuts.”
Speranza had a friend in need
When the shelling had died down, Speranza helped with wounded soldiers. Along the way, he ran into his friend and assistant machine gunner Joe Willis. The former parachutist recalled, “I found him, and asked ‘How you doin?’ He said, ‘I got a couple pieces of shrapnel in my leg. It’s not too bad.′ I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He said, ‘Yeah, go find me something to drink.’”
Speranza took the words to heart and went into the town to see if he could find something. The issue was that many of the buildings in Bastogne were destroyed. Eventually, he was able to find a bombed-out tavern with a working tap. When the soldier pulled the tap, beer came out, so he filled up his helmet. When he returned to camp, other troops asked for beer as well, so he made a second run. When Speranza returned from the second run, he was told to stop and that beer could kill some of the wounded troops.
An amazing revelation came decades later
65 years after the events, Speranza returned to Bastogne to celebrate the opening of a new Museum. While there, he chatted with a soldier from the Netherlands and another from Belgium. After the beer story was told, they asked him, “You were the GI who gave beer to the wounded? You’re famous in Europe!”
The Europeans ordered him an Airborne beer and showed him that it was created to celebrate his legendary story. The label of the drink had a picture of a soldier carrying beer in his helmet. The brew was even served to him in a small ceramic helmet.
Speranza had another big surprise up his sleeve
A few years after discovering he was the inspiration behind Airborne beer, Speranza was in the news again. This time around he decided that he would relive his old parachuting days by jumping out of an airplane. And he was going to do it at the age of 91.
Speranza had of course made many jumps before. He first decided to become a parachutist when he heard that they make an additional $50 a month. The jump came in 2016 and Speranza skydove in tandem with Mike Elliott from the All Veteran Parachute Team.
The WWII veteran said of the jump, “Fantastic. Beautiful. Absolutely. I’m glad I lived to see that. It makes you feel good, that you’re facing a moment of truth,” he said. “You’re going to survive or hit the ground in a million pieces.”