Speirs in Austria, 1945
|Nickname(s)||"Sparky", "Killer", "Bloody"|
April 20, 1920|
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
|Died||April 11, 2007
Saint Marie, Montana, United States
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1966|
|Unit||Dog Company/Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division|
|Awards||Presidential Unit Citation (2 OLC)|
|Other work||Governor of Spandau Prison, Red Army Liaison Officer|
Lieutenant Colonel Ronald C. Speirs (20 April 1920 – 11 April 2007) was a United States Army officer who served in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. He was initially assigned as a platoon leader in either Charlie or Baker Company of the 1st Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Speirs was reassigned to Dog Company of the 2nd Battalion prior to the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, before his unit was absorbed into Easy Company, of which he was given command during the assault on Foy after the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. Speirs also served in Korea, where he commanded a rifle company, and later became the American Governor for Spandau Prison in Berlin. He reached the rank of captain while serving in the European Theater during World War II and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Speirs was portrayed in the television miniseries Band of Brothers by Matthew Settle.
Speirs was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1920 and spent his first few years there until he emigrated with his family to the United States, arriving in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 December 1924. He attended military training in high school, which led to a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the infantry of the United States Army. After the United States entered World War II Speirs volunteered for the paratroopers: he served as a platoon leader within Dog Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which later became part of the 101st Airborne Division, at Camp Toccoa, Georgia and was shipped to England in late 1943 shortly before Mission Albany. After arriving in England, the division began training for the invasion of France.
Speirs parachuted into Normandy on 6 June 1944 (or D-Day) and quickly met with fellow troops after landing. He assembled a small group of soldiers to assist during the Brecourt Manor Assault, where he single-handedly captured the fourth 105mm howitzer. Speirs' platoon spent the night of 6 June being shuffled in position with other platoons as the company was arranged for battle to begin early the next morning. A rolling artillery barrage had been coordinated in support of the ground assault on the morning of 7 June; to initiate the attack, artillery fire was adjusted back towards American lines before moving forward in increments. Speirs ordered his platoon to hold position until the fire was completed to prevent serious casualties and friendly fire. One of his squad leaders ignored the orders due to fatigue and disorientation; after his order was ignored a second time, Speirs shot the sergeant between the eyes, then promptly reported the incident to the company commander, Captain Jerre S. Gross. Gross was killed in combat the next day and the incident was not pursued.
Another account documents Dog Company Private Arthur DiMarzio, a subordinate of Speirs', claiming he witnessed the event in its entirety: the sergeant in question was drunk and wanting to engage the Germans after Speirs ordered his men to hold position. Speirs recognized the sergeant's drunken condition, declared him too intoxicated to perform his duty and ordered him to remove himself to the rear, which the sergeant refused to do. During a second warning, the sergeant reached for his rifle and brought it to bear upon Speirs, who then shot him dead. DiMarzio gave Captain Gross his eyewitness testimony, whereas Gross declared the matter as self-defense, but was killed before he was able to formally document the matter.
Speirs and D Company later saw action during Operation Market Garden. Due to Easy Company's role as primary assault company, Dog Company did not see as much action as Easy and thus was eventually amalgamated into Easy Company as their personnel were progressively depleted; however, it still participated in many engagements during the war, and both Speirs and Dog Company were at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. When Easy Company's initial attack on the German-occupied town of Foy bogged down due to the poor leadership of its commander, 1st Lieutenant Norman Dike, battalion executive officer Captain Richard Winters ordered Speirs to relieve Dike of command. The selection of Speirs was random; Winters later stated that Speirs was simply the first officer he saw when he turned around. Speirs successfully took over the assault and led Easy Company to victory. During this battle, Lt. Dike had ordered a platoon to go on a flanking mission around the rear of the town. To countermand this order, Speirs himself ran through the town and German lines (as this platoon had no radio), linked up with the Item Company soldiers and relayed the order. Having completed this, he then ran back through the German-occupied town. He was reassigned as commanding officer of Easy Company and remained in that position for the rest of the war. Of the officers who commanded Easy Company during the war, Speirs commanded the longest.
Winters assessed Speirs as being one of the finest combat officers in the battalion. He wrote in his memoirs that Speirs had worked hard to earn a reputation as a killer and had often killed for shock value. Winters stated that Speirs was alleged on one occasion to have killed six German prisoners of war with a Thompson submachinegun and that the battalion leadership must have been aware of the allegations, but chose to ignore the charges because of the pressing need to retain qualified combat leaders. Winters concluded that in today's army, Speirs would have been court-martialed and charged with atrocities, but at the time officers like Speirs were too valuable because they were not afraid to engage the enemy.
Although Speirs had enough points to go home after the end of the European Campaign, he chose to remain with Easy Company. Japan surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before Speirs and Easy could be transferred to the Pacific Theater.
On 20 May 1944, Speirs married a woman he met while stationed in Wiltshire, England. She had been a member of the British Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. Their union produced one son, Robert, who grew up to become a lieutenant colonel in the British Army. They later divorced in 1946.
The 1992 Stephen E. Ambrose book Band of Brothers claimed Speirs' English wife had left him and returned to her first husband whom she thought had died during the war. Speirs has denied this claim. In a 1992 letter written to Richard Winters, Speirs wrote that his first wife simply did not want to move to America with him and be away from her family in England. He also stated his wife was never a widow to begin with and that he had always loved her.
Speirs returned to the United States and decided to remain in the Army, serving in the Korean War, where he made one combat jump and commanded a rifle company until the war's end. On 23 March 1951, he participated in Operation Tomahawk in which he parachuted into Munsan (known as Munsan-ni at the time of the war) with nearly 3,500 other troopers in his unit (187th Regimental Combat Team). The initial mission of his battalion was to secure the drop zone, which was accomplished, killing forty or fifty enemy soldiers. After the initial mission, he continued to command the 3rd Battalion for its attack to cut the enemy escape route near Uijeongbu.
Post Korean War
Following Korea, Speirs attended a Russian language course in 1956 and was assigned as a liaison officer to the Red Army in Potsdam, East Germany. In 1958, he became the American Governor of the Spandau Prison in Berlin, where prominent Nazis such as Rudolf Hess were imprisoned. Prisoner Albert Speer mentions in his book, Spandau: The Secret Diaries, a "hard-nosed, irritating American Commandant"; that man was later identified as Speirs.
Laotian Civil War
In 1962, Speirs was a member of the US Mission to the Royal Lao Army, where he served as a training officer in Mobile Training Team (MTT) for Operation White Star which was then managed by the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Laos (MAAG Laos).
Speirs remarried at least five times. He died on 11 April 2007 in Saint Marie, Montana, where he and his wife lived part-time. He was survived by his son, Robert (from his first marriage) and three grandchildren, as well as several stepchildren and stepgrandchildren.
Speirs' life story was featured in the 2010 book A Company of Heroes: Personal Memories about the Real Band of Brothers and the Legacy They Left Us.
Awards and decorations
|Combat Infantry Badge 2nd Award|
|Parachutist Badge with 3 combat jump stars|
|Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters|
|Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters|
|Presidential Unit Citation with one oak leaf cluster|
|American Campaign Medal|
|European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three service stars and arrowhead device|
|World War II Victory Medal|
|Army of Occupation Medal|
|National Defense Service Medal with service star|
|Croix de guerre with palm|
|French Liberation Medal|
|United Nations Korea Medal|
- DeAngelis, Frank. "Speirs' shadowbox". Retrieved 2009-10-12.
- Social Security Death Index record
- Ambrose, p.83
- Winters, p.88
- Guarnere and Heffron, p.69
- Winters, p.186
- Winters, p.187
- Winters, p.176
- Winters, p.185
- Ambrose, p.209
- HistoryNet interview with Dick Winters, p.6
- Ambrose, p.208
- Winters, p.272
- Ambrose, p.287
- Bowers, William T. (2009). Striking Back: Combat in Korea, March-April 1951. KY: The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0813125642.
- Bowers, William T. (2009). Striking Back: Combat in Korea, March-April 1951. KY: The University Press of Kentucky. p. 186. ISBN 0813125642.
- Ambrose, p.301
- Brotherton, Marcus (2010). A Company of Heroes: Personal Memories about the Real Band of Brothers and the Legacy They Left Us. CA: Berkley Hardcover. ISBN 0425234207.
- Ambrose, Stephen E. (1992). Band of Brothers: Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7434-6411-6.
- Winters, Richard D., with Cole C. Kingseed (2006). Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-425-20813-3.
- Guarnere, William J., and Edward J. Heffron, with Robyn Post (2007). Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story. Berkley Caliber. ISBN 978-0-425-21970-6.
- Brotherton, Marcus (2010). A Company of Heroes: Personal Memories about the Real Band of Brothers and the Legacy They Left Us. Berkley Caliber. ISBN 9780425234204.