Vicent Speranza was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division after he graduated high school. He served as a part of replacement forces in November 1944 assigned to Bastogne.
In 2009, he traveled back to Bastogne and learned that his exploits on one particular day had not only become legend – they had become the cornerstone of an entire industry for the town.
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Just weeks after arriving at Company H, Speranza found himself deep in a foxhole with Germans surrounding him. To make matters worse, the regiment was running low on food, ammunition, and supplies.
On the second day of the siege, a friend of Speranza, Joe Willis, was wounded when shrapnel lodged in both of his legs. Willis was brought to a makeshift combat hospital in a blown-out church. Speranza later heard the news and tracked down his buddy. When he found his fellow paratrooper, Willis had one request – he wanted something to drink.
With supplies cut off after being surrounded by Germans, there was little to no chance of finding something to drink. Speranza had to improvise; he searched in a local tavern of the war-torn city and to his surprise, he discovered a working beer tap. This is where Speranza cemented himself as a legend.
Without the luxury of a cup, he once again had to improvise. He filled his helmet with the beer — the same one he had used as a foxhole toilet — and made two trips to the wounded in the church.
He was later caught by an angry major and told he would be shot if he did not stop, for fear he would kill the wounded.
65 years later, he returned to Bastogne, and to his surprise, discovered little had changed since he was last there. Even his foxhole was still there. The veteran was causally speaking to Dutch and Belgian military officials when they informed him of the legend of a soldier filling his helmet with beer for the wounded – a legend that had been immortalized on the label of Bastogne’s Airborne beer.
The memories quickly flooded back to Speranza, and he realized they were speaking about him. The beer that he is now fondly remembered by is usually served in a ceramic military helmet per the tradition that he started in 1944.