Ronald Speirs (April 20, 1920 - April 11, 2007) was a United States Army officer who served in the U.S. 101st Airborne Division during World War II. He was initially a platoon leader in Company "D" ("Dog" Company) of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Speirs was reassigned to command "E" or "Easy" Company in Bastogne at the end of the Battle of the Bulge. Speirs also served in Korea where he commanded a rifle company, and later became the American Governor for Spandau Prison in Berlin. He served as a Captain in the European Theater and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Speirs was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1920 and spent his first few years there until he emigrated with his family to Boston, Massachusetts, USA, arriving on December 26, 1924. He grew up in Portland, Maine. He attended military training in high school, which led to a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry; however, Speirs volunteered for the paratroopers. He served as a platoon leader with Dog Company at Camp Toccoa, Georgia and was shipped to England shortly before Operation Chicago.
World War II
Speirs parachuted into Normandy on June 6, 1944 (or D-Day) and quickly met with fellow troops after landing. He assembled a small group of soldiers and assisted in the capture of the fourth 105mm Howitzer during the Brecourt Manor Assault.
Due to Easy Company's role as primary assault company, Dog Company did not see as much action as Easy. However, it still participated in many engagements during the war, and both Speirs and Dog Company were at Bastogne. When Easy Company's initial attack on the German-occupied town of Foy bogged down due to the poor leadership of its commander (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. 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.
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 were transferred to the Pacific Theater.
After World War II
Speirs returned to England to find that his wife (the widow of a British soldier who had been reported dead) had returned to her first husband who had turned up alive as a German prisoner of war. She apparently retained ownership of all the spoils of war (i.e., silver platters, goblets, plates, and utensils gathered at different places throughout Europe like Haguenau or Kehlsteinhaus) that Speirs had sent home from his travels in Europe. Speirs then 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.
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 Nazi war criminals such as Rudolf Hess were imprisoned. In 1962, Speirs was a member of the U.S. Mission to the Royal Lao Army.
Although he did not normally attend the yearly Easy Company reunions, Speirs met with several Easy Company members several times and attended at least one reunion in 2001 when he met (besides others) with Dick Winters.
Speirs died suddenly on April 11, 2007.
Ronald Speirs was a legend to his fellow soldiers during World War II because of rumors that he had shot twenty to thirty prisoners of war on D-Day. It is rumored that he gave the prisoners cigarettes, gave them a light, and then shot all but one of them. This rumor has sparked much debate among veterans and fans of Band of Brothers.
Stories from Easy veterans suggest the shootings did take place, including Richard Winters stating that Speirs suggested the rumors were true but never gave any details. However, if the shooting of the prisoners actually took place, its exact location cannot be conclusively determined. Donald Malarkey claimed he heard a Tommy gun firing near the location of the prisoners on D-Day but did not actually see anything. Winters originally heard that the incident took place at Bastogne. Carwood Lipton claimed he heard it occurred in Carentan. Speirs never discussed the rumors publicly.
Richard Winters, in his own book entitled Beyond Band of Brothers: The Memoirs of Major Richard Winters, detailed exactly what did happen when Speirs shot a sergeant in one of his squads for disobeying a direct order in combat. Winters notes that by shooting the sergeant, Speirs saved the lives of many other men. Winters also repeatedly calls Speirs "a born killer" and states that despite making occasional flawed decisions off the battlefield, Speirs was a superb combat commander, which Winters respected immensely. Winters also points out that Speirs did report this incident to his commanding officer and names the officer. However, that officer was killed in action the next day, and the incident was never pursued at any level. Winters suggests that officers higher in the chain of command were so desperate for competent field officers that they could not afford losing one of Speirs' caliber. The soldiers serving under Speirs respected him immensely, but also feared him. This incident eventually faded away officially but became legend among the troops.
Ronald Speirs was portrayed in the television miniseries Band of Brothers by Matthew Settle.
*Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0-7434-6411-7
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