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Cali Owings, Published August 02 2013

Two World War II vets share memories of 'the last good war'

MOORHEAD – Two men shared their stories from the Battle of the Bulge over lunch at the American Legion here Friday.

Sgt. Merle McMorrow, from Breckenridge, and Pvt. Vincent Speranza, from Staten Island, New York, shared some of their most triumphant and entertaining memories as paratroopers in World War II.

Both agreed they’ve recently shared their stories a lot more as younger generations have become more interested in World War II.

It’s sometimes called “the last good war,” said McMorrow, because “the whole country was behind it.”

Dec. 7, 1941 – the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and prompted the U.S. to enter the war – was a pivotal day for both men.

Speranza was 16 years old and went to the store to buy something for his family – he doesn’t remember what.

When he got there, people were gathered around the radio, hushed and still. He asked what was going on.

He was told to “ ‘Shut up, the president is speaking. The Japanese just attacked Pearl Harbor,’ ” Speranza recalled.

He had to wait until he was 18 to enlist.

McMorrow also heard the news over the radio at a pool hall.

“First, I had to ask where Pearl Harbor was at,” he said. He tried to enlist locally, but they were taking the older men first.

Both men eventually became paratroopers – and made an extra $50 monthly for being willing to “throw yourself out of an airplane,” Speranza said.

They found themselves in the same fight in l944 – the Battle of the Bulge – the bloodiest fight for the U.S. during the war.

The audience of about two dozen at the American Legion listened intently Friday as the men recounted their locations and battles throughout the war. But the audience called out for them to share some of the most colorful moments. Despite the devastation of the war, both men said there were many good times.

As the battle was going on in Bastogne, Belgium, Speranza’s “foxhole buddy” was injured. He was recuperating in a church and asked Speranza to try and find him something to drink. He went around to abandoned taverns in the area in search of some relief for his friend, found beer, filled his helmet and returned to the church. When Speranza was asked by a superior what he was doing, he said, “bringing aid and comfort to the wounded.”

When Speranza returned to Bastogne in 2009, he learned his story was commemorated by Belgian brewers whose Airborne beer logo features a soldier carrying beer in his helmet.

Speranza has visited Bastogne – where a museum dedicated to the 101st Airborne Division is located – every year since 2009.

McMorrow said when the war was over, it was difficult to become a civilian again.

“To the G.I.s that came home, they’d been so many places and seen so many things. … It was difficult to come back and fit into the small town lifestyle again,” McMorrow said.

Though now an engaging storyteller with jokes and different accents, Speranza said he didn’t talk about his experiences in the war for a long time.

Now, he’s “on a roll.” He’s working on completing a book about his life and experiences in the war.

McMorrow has already written two books about his experiences – “From Rome to Berlin via Bastogne” and “From Breckenridge to Bastogne.”