Before he developed and marketed the citrus fruit beverage known to the world today as Capri Sun, Hans-Peter Wild was a child in Heidelberg, Germany, during World War II who always remembered the generosity of the U.S. troops stationed in his father’s factory.
The Americans handed out chocolate and chewing gum, and those simple gestures, along with the Allies’ victory that liberated Germany from Adolf Hitler’s rule, stayed with the boy.
Wild, who became a billionaire, said he believes that Germany owes a tremendous debt to U.S. troops, whose sacrifice brought prosperity and peace.
“The American military saved Germany from the Nazis,” Wild said. “They forget so quickly what the Americans have done for us.”
As an expression of his continuing gratitude, Wild has given $16.5 million to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Alexandria, Virginia, that provides educational financial support for the children of Marine and Navy veterans. Wild’s gift, the largest ever for the foundation, will benefit 3,000 scholarship recipients during the coming decade, said the group’s president, Margaret Davis.
“Education is the most important thing you can give a child,” Wild said. “While America has the best education in the world, it also has the most expensive education in the world. To help the children of Marines is a very good thing.”
Since its inception in 1962, the foundation has provided more than 35,000 scholarships. The recipients of Wild’s scholarships are eligible for $1,500 to $10,000 in need-based aid, Davis said.
“We owe it to those who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us,” Davis said. “We have to honor the sacrifice of these Marines by educating their children.”
Wild’s fortunes rose in 1974, when he introduced Capri Sun, the popular citrus-flavor drink now sold in 100 countries. About 7 billion of the drink’s trademark silver pouches are sold annually worldwide, according to a Forbes profile of Wild.
Part of Capri Sun’s early success was owed to Wild’s signing of boxer Muhammad Ali as a pitch man for the beverage. In ads played around the world, Ali likened Capri Sun to himself as “the greatest of all time.”
For Wild, the greatest gift he received was the comfort of safety he felt growing up in the presence of American troops protecting his family, he said. His intention with his donation to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, he said, is to pass along his thanks to the next generation.
Wild’s scholarships will probably benefit about 200 students during the 2015-2016 school year, Davis said.
One is Ben Brooks, a senior in the school for foreign service at Georgetown University, whose father served in aviation for the Marines aboard aircraft carriers. Brooks studies Chinese and works with court-involved youths in a mentorship program.
Brooks said that financial assistance from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation has given him the freedom to focus on academics and other volunteer opportunities, inspired “mostly because of values my dad instilled in me.”
Another recipient, Catalina Cotis, is a first-generation college student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Cotis, a senior, plans to pursue a career as an athletic trainer for the military, helping servicemen rehabilitate from injuries sustained in training or combat. Her father, a former drill instructor, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years in support of combat operations.
She grew up writing her father weekly letters, looking on a map to see where her dad was deployed. She recalled the anxious wait until her father returned.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Cotis said.
While her father served abroad, Cotis found support from the other military families on various military bases. Now she hopes to graduate and treat those who helped her, “all while serving in the same community that helped raise me.”
During Wild’s last visit to Washington, he laid a wreath at the World War II Memorial on the Mall to pay homage while a Marine Corps veteran played taps.
“People have a short memory of the good things that happened to them,” said Wild, 74. He never forgot.