The Best Wine My Father Ever Drank

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.

9 Responses

  1. Lenn - June 6, 2006

    Tom, thanks for sharing such a cool story. I’ll definitely raise a glass to your father and his fellow soldiers this evening.

  2. lagramiere - June 6, 2006

    Great post Tom, brought tears to my eyes!

  3. Mary Baker - June 6, 2006

    Me, too. Thank God someone else got teary.

  4. johng - June 6, 2006

    Hi Tom, pardon me for hijacking your thread with my own WWII story. In 1943, my mom was engaged to a young B-17 pilot named Lt. Al Bonney. Bonney was shot down over France and spent almost a year in a POW camp before he and several other prisoners escaped and traversed over 100 miles behind enemy lines to safety. He volunteered to return to duty, but was ordered back to the states. Playing golf on a base in Texas, he was struck by lightning and killed. Through two marriages, my mom continued to wear the engagement ring Al Bonney gave to her until 1992, when she gave it to me, and I put it on my wife’s finger at our wedding.

  5. Pete Danko - June 6, 2006

    Great story, Tom. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Mark (Uncorked in Ohio) - June 7, 2006

    Beautifully done, Tom. Beautifully done.

  7. Annette - June 13, 2006

    Great story, Tom. Thanks for sharing. Yet another example of the potential wine has for bringing people together and is a timely reminder in many respects.

  8. Kevin - March 6, 2008

    I noticed your story about the old prison guard, Popeye. My uncle, also a WWII POW, talks often about popeye. Do you know his real name or have a photo?
    Our family if putting together a video about my uncles experiences and that would be a great addition.

  9. security systems - February 16, 2011

    I would love to taste it too.

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