PLACERVILLE (CBS13) — Ray Haagen last held the bottle of French wine nearly 70 years ago. His signature is one of many from the U.S. Army’s 83rd Infantry Division who signed the bottle.
In the midst of World War II, the men made a pact.
“Do not open until 1955,” an inscription on the bottle reads.
The group would not pop the cork until all of them were back together in the United States.
The 83rd Infantry landed on the beaches of Normandy nearly two weeks after D-Day. Sent in to cover for paratroopers, the division suffered thousands of casualties. Death was always near.
“We got shells coming in, mortars coming in,” Haagen said. “We lost our jeep driver there; he got hit with some shrapnel.”
Somewhere in France, he says his friend Ben Young must have picked up the wine from an abandoned home.
Young passed away in 2002, but his son, who now lives in Montana, wanted to return the bottle to one of the men who scribbled his name on it all those years ago.
He tracked down Haagen in Placerville.
“Here is your tontine bottle of French booze, a half century late but at least it made it,” he said. “I was the only one left out of the group, all the other ones had passed away.”
Haagen doesn’t even remember signing it, or the group the pact the group had made. But he says he will honor the agreement made in France seven decades ago—the bottle will remain sealed.
“I will never open it,” he said.
And when he passes it down to his children, they won’t open it either.