The Spirit of the Maroon Beret

UPDATE: Sept 2012
Will and his family joined us again for World War II Days at Midway Village, in Rockford, IL. It was great to see him and his family again. He presented the unit with a photo of himself in his football jersey. To know he has struggled with health issues during his life and now enjoys playing contacts sports is a testament of strength and determination to this young man.

UPDATE: Sept. 2011
We had the opportunity to meet up with Will and his family again during this years Rockford event. The unit was able to present Will with an outfit closely resembling a WWII paratrooper uniform along with a 509 patch. We were happy to hear he had been pneumonia free from some time and it was great to see him growing stronger and full of spirit.


ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Sept. 2010
“What’s with the beret? Are you British?” These are two very common questions regarding the 509th. The fact is the 509th was the first American unit to wear a beret. After arriving in England the battalion trained heavily with the British 1st Airborne Division, at one point smashing the Red Devil’s obstacle course records. In 1943, so impressed by accomplishments of the 509th, division commander General Frederick Browing granted honorary Red Devil membership and authorized the right to wear the British-style maroon beret.

The maroon beret has become a universal symbol of high distinction and is still worn by paratroopers today. It stands for the gut, grit, and the amazing fortitude that goes with being the best of the best.

Pictured with the 509 reenactors is Will. We got to know him during World War II Days in Rockford, IL in 2010. This shy 7-year old has quite the story! He has been in and out of hospitals his whole life, facing 45 bouts with Pneumonia, two stokes, and seizures. Three days after this picture was taken he will undergo his 20th surgery. At the age of three he overheard his physical therapist say he would never walk while other doctors thought he might not live past four. Proving both counts wrong he is getting stronger everyday, both physically and mentally, but tough roads still lie ahead.

That night, his mom tell us, he slept wearing his beret while holding a copy of the photo. He also wants to wear the beret during surgery. Will embodies the spirit of the 509th and the maroon beret. Always move forward and never give up. We are proud to honor the past generation and inspire the next. All the way Will!

4 Responses

  1. Cpl "Zippy" 509th PIB says:

    May St. Michael (Patron saint of Paratroopers) protect you on Wed. & on the rest of your days little guy, live long. See you in the DZ!

  2. Kait Penkava (Wills Mom) says:

    Wills surgery had to be postponed due to fluid in his lungs. As soon as his lungs are clear we can proceed with surgery. Thank you so much for all of your thoughts and prayers!

  3. Pfc. Gordon 509th PIB says:

    I look forward to hitting the field with him when he turns 16.

  4. Kait Penkava (Wills Mom) says:

    He would Love that!

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