Soldiers who’ve been injured in battle can often be comforted with items that remind them of home. During the Siege of Bastogne in World War II, for example, an injured paratrooper requested something rather simple to calm his nerves: a drink. The lengths one of his comrades, Vincent Speranza, went to to get him said beverage is a tale that continues to be told decades later.
Siege of Bastogne
By December 1944, the Allied forces were well on their way to defeating the Germans in the Second World War. That being said, the enemy wasn’t about to go down without a fight. As the Americans and British pushed further into Europe, the Germans knew they needed to launch a powerful (and successful) offensive – thus began the Battle of the Bulge.
Beginning in mid-December 1944 and lasting until the end of the following month, the engagement, while ultimately an Allied victory, inflicted heavy casualties on both sides. The Allies suffered over 82,000 dead and injured, while the German total amounted to nearly 68,000.
Among the confrontations to occur during this time was the Siege of Bastogne. The Allies had liberated the town that September and the Germans were eager to retake it; the Führer believed taking back Bastogne would allow them to cut off the Allies’ access to Antwerp, which served as a critical strategic port.
Encircled by the Germans
Vincent Speranza of Company H, 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division was deployed to the European Theater during the later years of the Second World War. He and his comrades were in the midst of the action while the Battle of the Bulge was underway – in fact, the Siege of Bastogne was his very first engagement.
While the German forces rained heavy fire down on the town, the US Army’s 28th Infantry Division did all it could to hold them off until reinforcements arrived. Before long, the 101st Airborne arrived on the scene, but its members still struggled to fight back the enemy.
By December 20, 1944, Bastogne was completely surrounded, and it would be another week before Gen. George Patton‘s Third US Army could break through. Prior to this, the Germans had pushed the Americans to surrender, to which Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe replied, “NUTS!”
Vincent Speranza saw a fellow soldier in need
When the enemy shelling died down, Vincent Speranza immediately went to work helping the wounded. Along the way, he ran into a friend and assistant machine gunner, Joe Willis. The former paratrooper 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 request seriously and entered Bastogne in search of something to give his comrade. The issue, however, was that many of the buildings were in ruin. Despite this, he was able to find a bombed-out tavern with a working tap and used his helmet to collect a sizeable amount of beer.
When Speranza returned to camp, others began asking for alcohol, so he made a second run. After this trip, he was told to stop, as the drinks could actually kill some of the wounded; he spoke to the regimental surgeon, who threatened to shoot him because “if you give these guys beer, you’ll kill ’em.”
An amazing revelation came decades later
Over six decades later, Vincent Speranza returned to Bastogne to celebrate the opening of the Bastogne War Museum. While there, he chatted with two soldiers, one from the Netherlands and another from Belgium. After telling the beer story, the duo exclaimed, “You were the GI who gave beer to the wounded? You’re famous in Europe!”
Aware Speranza didn’t know what they meant, the pair called a waiter over and ordered an “Airborne Beer.” A local brewery had thought it up, and the drink’s label featured a picture of a soldier lugging beer in his helmet. To add to the gimmick, the brew was even served to the veteran in a small ceramic helmet.
Vincent Speranza had another surprise up his sleeve
A few years after discovering he was the inspiration behind Airborne Beer, Vincent Speranza made the news once again. This time around, he’d decided he would relive his old parachuting days by jumping out of an aircraft – and he would do so at the age of 91. Speranz had completed several jumps before this, and had actually decided to become a paratrooper when he’d heard they earned an extra $50 a month.
The memorable jump occurred in 2016, with Speranza diving in tandem with Mike Elliott from the All Veteran Parachute Team. Speaking about the moment after, he said, “Fantastic. Beautiful. Absolutely. I’m glad I lived to see that. It makes you feel good, that you’re facing a moment of truth. You’re going to survive or hit the ground in a million pieces.”
On August 2, 2023, Vincent Speranza died at the age of 98. He left behind an incredible story and legacy that few will ever live up to.