WWII veteran left the American youth with a warning before he died

Update: Jumping out of an airplane at 98 years old is one hell of a feat and Vincent Speranza probably would have done it again at 99, but the long beloved 101st Airborne Division veteran passed away on Wednesday.

“Rest in Peace, Vinny,” the Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg), North Carolina-based unit said in a Twitter post.

We are saddened by the passing of Vincent Speranza, who served in the @101stAASLTDIV
during #WWII,” the 101st Airborne Division posted on Twitter with a video. “Seeing combat during the Battle of the Bulge where the #101st became famous for defending Bastogne.”

In the video, Speranza provides a warning message to the youth of today.

“Freedom is not free; someone always has to pay the price,” he says. “The price is high but Americans have always been willing to pay it when necessary.”

“My advice to you is to keep yourself prepared because it may be your turn the next time freedom is threatened.”

Mar. 25—STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Some people would never dream of jumping from a plane.

However, for 98-year-old PFC Vincent Speranza, jumping is an annual tradition.

Speranza, who celebrated his birthday on March 23, was born in Port Richmond to Italian immigrants. Like many at the onset of World War II, the former Staten Island Advance delivery boy enlisted when he turned 18, and was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, in November 1944.

Overseas, Speranza valiantly served until January 1946. He experienced 144 days of combat, part of which was spent defending the city of Bastogne against invading German forces during the historic Battle of the Bulge.

His actions in combat would garner him two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor.

In returning from the war, Speranza graduated from Wagner College on the GI Bill before becoming a history teacher at Curtis High School. After more than 60 years, Speranza decided to detail his account of life in a book, which he would title “Nuts!”

Though penning the story recounted much of his life, jumping itself was something he wanted to relive.

“Jumping is the most fantastic thing in the world,” said Speranza, who now resides in Auburn, Ill. “The last jump I made was in 1945, and when I reached about age 80, I started training for another jump. I said, ‘I’m going to be gone soon, and I gotta just do it one more time.'”

Speranza hoped to find a group that would allow him to partake in a static line jump; however, due to his age, he was restricted. The only way he could jump was via tandem skydive, strapped to another person for the entire descent.

“I said, ‘That’s not a jump; that’s skydiving. You’re a message on a passenger pigeon’s leg going out the door,'” Speranza noted. “I had to eat my words because that’s the only kind of jump I could get. Four years ago, I started, and on my birthday, every year, I make a jump.”

This year will be no different, as Speranza is set to join Round Canopy Parachuting Team USA for Operation Sand Snake VII at the Kay Larken Airfield in Palatka, Fla., on March 24 and 25. The main event over the weekend is honoring Speranza by deeming him the guest of honor. Before his anticipated speech on Saturday, he will tandem jump from 9,500 feet alongside Art Shaffer, who runs Skydive Palatka, from a WWII-era C-47 aircraft named “Tico Bell.” The plane had seen service during D-Day, one of the most infamous days of the war. Shaffer is renowned for jumping with numerous World War II veterans across historical sites such as Normandy.

The main jump is the culmination of a week of jump training for those under instruction from the trainers, most of which are former military. Over 100 jumpers are expected to leap from the plane, 12 at a time.

Joining Speranza is his good friend, SSG Russ Battiato. Like Speranza, Battiato was a teacher; he worked at Tottenville High School and McKee High School. Speranza and Battiato have gone on numerous trips together and look forward to visiting Normandy over the summer.

“We worship the ground these guys walk on,” said Battiato of Speranza and the other veterans. “They are walking history books and we are losing them quickly. These groups not only go over there to jump, but we escort the veterans over and take care of them while we’re there.”

Even at the age of 98, nothing seems to curb Speranza’s desire to jump.

“The way some people go to a bar and have a drink, we go to an airplane and jump out of it,” he said.


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