Once in a while, you hear an old war story that restores your faith in humanity.
A new book explores the incredible encounter of two WWII pilots in mid-air — a rookie American on his first bombing mission, piloting a crippled aircraft that was missing an engine and a German flying ace who not only saluted, then spared the rookie, but escorted him out of enemy airspace.
As the German Lt. Franz Stigler told interviewers in 1991, he was aghast at the amount of damage the bomber had sustained. Its nose cone was missing, it had several gaping holes in the fuselage. He could see crew members giving first aid to the wounded, and most of the plane’s guns hung limp, unmanned as they were.
“I saw his gunner lying in the back profusely bleeding….. so, I couldn’t shoot. I tried to get him to land in Germany and he didn’t react at all. So, I figured, well, turn him toward Sweden.”
A bewildered Brown stared back through his side window, not believing what he was seeing. When it was clear that Brown wasn’t staying in Germany, Stigler saluted, and peeled off.
It didn’t seem likely that they’d ever see one another again, but Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown sought out the Luftwaffe pilot decades later when they were both old men. A close friendship was born.
The Brown-Stigler reunion is detailed in the new book by Adam Makos, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.
(WATCH the video below, and READ the feature story in Jalopnik.com)