Skip to comments.On this day in history: A Higher Call
Posted on 12/20/2012 9:49:18 AM PST by Starman417
December 20, 1943, 4 days before Christmas:
a young American bomber pilot named Charlie Brown found himself somewhere over Germany, struggling to keep his plane aloft with just one of its four engines still working. They were returning from their first mission as a unit, the successful bombing of a German munitions factory. Of his crew members, one was dead and six wounded, and 2nd Lt. Brown was alone in his cockpit, the three unharmed men tending to the others. Browns B-17 had been attacked by 15 German planes and left for dead, and Brown himself had been knocked out in the assault, regaining consciousness in just enough time to pull the plane out of a near-fatal nose dive.
None of that was as shocking as the German pilot now suddenly to his right.
Brown thought he was hallucinating. He did that thing you see people do in movies: He closed his eyes and shook his head no. He looked, again, out the co-pilots window. Again, the lone German was still there, and now it was worse. Hed flown over to Browns left and was frantic: pointing, mouthing things that Brown couldnt begin to comprehend, making these wild gestures, exaggerating his expressions like a cartoon character.
Brown, already in shock, was freshly shot through with fear. What was this guy up to?
He craned his neck and yelled back for his top gunner, screamed at him to get up in his turret and shoot this guy out of the sky. Before Browns gunner could squeeze off his first round, the German did something even weirder: He looked Brown in the eye and gave him a salute. Then he peeled away.
What just happened? That question would haunt Brown for more than 40 years, long after he married and left the service and resettled in Miami, long after he had expected the nightmares about the German to stop and just learned to live with them.
Yesterday saw the release of a brand new book by Adam Makos (with Larry Alexander), A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II , which gives a detailed account of not only this strange "Christmas Truce"-like encounter, but also tells the background story of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler, and what happened to them after their famous aerial encounter (kept secret by the U.S. 8th Air Force for fear that American gunners might hesitate firing upon the enemy if the clemency shown Ye Olde Pub- Charlie Brown's bomber- were known. Brown and his crew were denied the medals they earned and deserved and were told their mission never happened. On Stigler's part, he kept his chivalrous act secret because to not do so would have seen him face a firing squad).
For the next few decades, Brown and Stigler would be "haunted" by memory of that day. They had unanswered questions for one another: Was the German 109 out of ammunition (Stigler's fighter was fully fueled and armed)? Did Brown's crew make it to England (Stigler thought it an impossible flight due to the condition of the B-17 and had motioned to Brown to head for Sweden and live out the remainder of the war)? It wouldn't be until 1990 that Brown and Stigler miraculously found one another.
Prior to Brown and Stigler's passing in 2008, Makos met with and interviewed both men extensively to tell their story. And as Charlie Brown puts it, "In this story, I'm just a character- Franz Stigler is the real hero." Shocking for the author to hear, having grown up regarding WWII-era Germans as all goose-stepping Nazis, evil and irredeemable. But as much as anything else, this book is about Franz Stigler and the heroic decency and chivalry of the Luftwaffe aces that Stigler flew with. As the deeply pro-American Makos relates at the beginning of his book,
something began to puzzle me. I noticed that the aging American WWII pilots talked about their counterparts- the old German WWII pilots- with a strange kind of respect. They spoke of the German pilots' bravery, decency, and this code of honor that they supposedly shared. Some American veterans even went back to Germany, to the places where they'd been shot down, to meet their old foes and shake hands.
Are you kidding? I thought. They were trying to kill you! They killed your friends. You're supposed to never forget. But the veterans who flew against the Germans thought differently. For once, I thought the Greatest Generation was crazy.
After Brown and Stigler finally met 40 years after their encounter, and their story began making the rounds in news publications, Makos' critical thoughts were echoed even more harshly by those who did perceive Stigler's show of mercy to the enemy as an act of treason:
(excerpt) Read more at floppingaces.net...
Put this on my Kindle wish list for after Christmas. Was getting choked up just reading the FA account.
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