Taking in the expanse of crisp, green grass before him, it was hard to believe that this peaceful scene was the very same place where he witnessed violence so gruesome and so horrific, it haunts him to this day. Glancing up at the dense, fast-moving clouds above, Vincent breathed in the fresh, cool air of the Belgian countryside, thinking of the men who fought alongside him. For years he had longed to return to this place. He needed to find closure. He needed to pay his respects to those courageous young men—the ones who didn’t make it back home, the ones who were not as fortunate as he.
It had been 65 years since Vincent Speranza fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and as he stood on that very same ground, he again felt like that young soldier, terrified yet somehow brave, fighting frantically for his life.
It was December 1944 and a 19-year-old Vincent, dirty and bloodied, was rushing through the streets of Bastogne, desperate to find water for a group of wounded soldiers. Climbing over debris in the war-ravaged town, Vincent stumbled onto the remnants of a tavern. The dazed proprietors had only beer to offer and so Vincent, without a canteen, pulled off his helmet and filled it to the brim. Returning to the church where the men were huddled, Vincent passed the helmet around and when it was emptied, he ran back for more, and he did so again and again and again.
Revisiting the scene of the battle stirred these long-dead memories and brought on a rush of emotion. But Vincent felt an eerie sense of calm, as if reconnecting with this traumatic part of his past had somehow—finally—brought him peace. Everything seemed okay now; he had survived, he had lived a good life, and he had finally made it back to honor his fallen comrades.
The past decade had been a tough one for Vincent. His wife of 62 years was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and after years of struggling, he was forced to move her into a long-term care facility. The cost of her comprehensive care was an enormous financial burden and Vincent was plagued with worry over paying his bills. And then, one day, everything changed. Flipping through the channels late at night, Vincent came across a commercial featuring Senator Fred Thompson. He was talking about retirement, and how tough it was for seniors nowadays to make ends meet. The answer, the Senator said, was right in front of you. All of your life you’ve worked to build the equity in your home, and now that equity can work for you.
Senator Thompson was talking about “What is a Reverse Mortgage?”, a tool that seniors age 62 and older can use to take a portion of the equity in their home and turn it into cash. The reverse mortgage differs from a forward mortgage because the borrower does not make monthly mortgage payments to the lender. Instead, the lender makes payments to the borrower. Borrowers are responsible for paying property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and for home maintenance. The borrower can extract a lump sum or receive monthly payments so long as he or she continues to live in the home and pays taxes and insurance and otherwise comply with loan terms. The borrower maintains possession of the home at all times and can stay in the home without the burden of a mortgage payment.
Intrigued by this idea, Vincent researched more about the product. He discovered that through a reverse mortgage, he could receive a monthly income that could support his daily needs and pay for his wife’s care. He could access enough cash to allow him to live comfortably in retirement, and he could relax knowing that he would not have to leave his home as long as he complies with loan terms.
Eventually, Vincent did take out a reverse mortgage, and the proceeds were enough to allow him to take this important trip, back to the place where his life was forever changed.
After visiting the battleground, Vincent set off to explore the restored town of Bastogne. At a local tavern he befriended a group of officers, and over beers the men swapped stories about the war. As the site of that infamous battle, one officer said, Bastogne is steeped in lore about the people who fought on those grounds. He went on to tell a famous tale about an American soldier who brought beer in his helmet to his wounded comrades.
Vincent was floored. His story had spread so far it had actually become a well-known tale, one that many assumed to be a myth. A local Belgian brewer even named a beer after the story, selling the dark lager throughout Europe in tiny ceramic helmets. Called Airborne Beer, Vincent’s lager is still brewed in Bastogne, and he has returned to the town with family several times since, sharing his memories with his son and feeling at peace with his past.