Over 70 years since Vincent J. Speranza last jumped from an airplane, he was able to do it again. The difference is that, 70 years ago, Speranza was a paratrooper in the US Army. This time, he is a 91-year-old veteran skydiving in tandem with instructor Mike Elliott of the All Veteran Parachute Team. Speranza watched the instructional training on basic freefall and canopy skills by Elliott in the Wherley Building at Skydrive Paraclete.
“Relax and have fun,” was the advice of Elliott. He is a 47-year-old former member of the US Army Parachute Team, The Golden Knights. He is known for having jumped three times with former President George H. W. Bush. Dean Buchanan of Sanford noted that there aren’t many WWII veterans left alive anymore. He felt that Speranza had “guts” to go up and relive his Army days.
After getting into his jumpsuit, Speranza waited to board the Cessna 208 Caravan that would take him and Elliott up for their jump. He recalled his time in the Army as his eyes misted. He served in the Army from 1943 to 1945. When he learned that paratroopers received an additional $50 in their pay, he jumped at the opportunity.
He said that they were ready to take on the Germans when they finished jump school since they were in such good shape.
Now, he needs a hearing aid and a cane to get around after receiving knee replacements. Speranza said that he’s started reminiscing as he’s gotten older. One of the most memorable times of his life was jumping from airplanes in WWII. He never got over the thrill.
“… You’re alone, the ground is coming, and it’s deathly quiet. You face the moment of truth, and you’re OK.”
After posing for pictures by the plane, he boarded and began the trip he’s been planning since he was 80 years old. No one would let him go because they felt he was too old. Then Speranza found the All Veteran Parachute Team, who supported his dream.
After the war, Speranza taught US history in Staten Island, New York. While there, he taught a student, “Buzz” Altshuler, who eventually retired from the Army as a Major General. Altshuler is a former commander of the Army Reserve’s Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command at Fort Bragg. The two reconnected around the time of Altshuler’s 40th class reunion. The Altshuler were amongst 12 friends attending to watch Speranza’s jump.
Speranza came to North Carolina to participate in several days of events surrounding the Fayetteville Veterans Day parade and annual Heroes Homecoming celebrations.
The war began when he was 16, so he was forced to wait two years to enlist. In training, he saw an airborne demonstration and became immediately interested in becoming a paratrooper. He volunteered to join the new paratrooper force. He made six jumps before reporting to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Europe.
He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he became famous for originating “Airborne Beer.” In Belgium, his unit was surrounded and unable to resupply. The wounded were in a makeshift hospital. One of the patients asked Speranza for a drink. He found a working tap in a destroyed tavern and began shuttling beer to the soldiers by pouring it into his helmet. In Bastogne, they brew a beer in honor of the story and serve it in ceramic helmets.
Once Germany surrendered, Speranza served in Europe during the occupation. Eventually, they moved to France to receive additional training. While there, he snuck a small camera on a jump and took some pictures for his family to remember him by. He knew they were preparing to ship to Japan and he felt like he would survive another combat jump. Fortunately, the Japanese surrendered before his unit left France, Fayobserver reported.
For one of the pictures, he turned the camera on himself and took what may be the first “airborne selfie.” After jumping with Elliott, Speranza 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,” he said. “You’re going to survive or hit the ground in a million pieces.”
We honor you, Vincent Speranza.