On D-Day, My Father and Wine
I was thinking about my father today on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I thought it might be good idea to re-post something I wrote 8 years ago on this blog in commemoration of the 62nd anniversary of D-Day. With gratitude to those who served and to my father:
Today is the 62nd anniversary of D-Day, the cross-channel invasion of Normandy, France during World War II that would lead to a victory in that war.
My father took part in the D-Day invasion as pilot of P-47. He, along with the rest of his squadron, was charged with attacking German supply lines feeding the front. On June 8 he was shot down, was able to safely crash-land his plane two miles on the German side of the battle line. He was nearly able to find his way back to the allied side of the battle before being captured and subsequently marched into Germany where he spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp.
My father was not a wine drinker. He was a Midwesterner who liked beer and bourbon. However, he did tell a story that centers on wine and that offers a glimpse into the ability of even enemies having empathy for one another.
It was Christmas Day, 1944. My father spent it in a prison barracks in Germany. He described the setting as simply cold and dreary. Life in prison camp was apparently monotonous not only for prisoners but for guards also. And over time, the guards and the prisoners became very well acquainted, viewing one another as simply soldiers doing their duty.
One guard, nicknamed “Popeye” apparently because he tended to squint in that Popeye sort of way, was particularly familiar with my father and the rest of his barrack mates. My father describes that 1944 Christmas night as quiet. The prisoners shared what goodies the red cross had sent in a paired down meal of graham crackers and chocolate…until Popeye made an unexpected visit.
My father used to tell it like this: “Popeye didn’t knock, didn’t announce himself, didn’t warn us but just banged open the door and stood there watching us for a moment. This was strange because he usually didn’t burst in on us but announced himself with a loud voice before he came in. He stood there and looked at us. He shut the door behind him, reached into his huge overcoat and brought out two bottles of German wine and gave us a big smile. Popeye and the rest of us sat down together and had wine together. I hadn’t had a drink in six months. It was the best wine I’d ever had.”
Years after the war my father would go to prison camp reunions. Popeye would travel to the United States to attend them too. And he was welcome.
The sixty-second anniversary of anything is not particularly important. However, today would be a good day to raise a glass of wine in honor of the soldiers who battled one another on D-Day.