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German pilot in WWII spared an American B-17 pilot over Germany only to reunite 40 years

later and become fishing buddies
The pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze. He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage. But
his co-pilot stared at the same horrible vision.
"My God, this is a nightmare," the co-pilot said.
"He's going to destroy us," the pilot agreed.
The men were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip. It was five
days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled American B-17 bomber for the kill.
The B-17 pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission. His bomber
had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone in the skies above Germany. Half his crew
was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns.
But when Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer "Pinky" Luke, looked at the fighter pilot again, something odd happened.
The German didn't pull the trigger. He nodded at Brown instead. What happened next was one of the most
remarkable acts of chivalry recorded during World War II. Years later, Brown would track down his would-be
executioner for a reunion that reduced both men to tears.
Living by the code
People love to hear war stories about great generals or crack troops such as Seal Team 6, the Navy unit that killed
Osama bin Laden. But there is another side of war that's seldom explored: Why do some soldiers risk their lives to
save their enemies and, in some cases, develop a deep bond with them that outlives war?
And are such acts of chivalry obsolete in an age of drone strikes and terrorism?

Charles Brown was on his first combat mission during World War II when he met an enemy unlike any other.

Those are the kinds of questions Brown's story raises. His encounter with the German fighter pilot is beautifully told
in a New York Times best-selling book, "A Higher Call." The book explains how that aerial encounter reverberated in
both men's lives for more than 50 years.
"The war left them in turmoil," says Adam Makos, who wrote the book with Larry Alexander. "When they found each
other, they found peace."

French says: The code is still needed today." The code is designed to prevent soldiers from becoming monsters. It's shaped cultures as diverse as the Vikings.are all battlefield behaviors that erode a soldier's humanity." Panetta says. French says. some even vacationed together after World War II." The code is designed to protect the victor. and the two men hugged and prayed together. The medal would rank above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Some have seen. A study of Vietnam veterans showed that those who felt as if they had participated in dishonorable behavior during the war or saw the Vietnamese as subhuman experienced more post-traumatic stress disorder. soldiers returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. "And they've given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle." the Greek hero Achilles breaks the code when his thirst for vengeance leads him to desecrate the body of his slain foe. French says. the Trojan hero Hector. One renowned American general traveled back to Vietnam to meet the man who almost wiped out his can make them doubt. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the new medal at a February news conference. "If [I'm] in the field risking and taking a life.S.000 people have signed an online petition protesting the medal. as well as the vanquished. French says. say soldiers and military scholars. is there any honor in killing an enemy by remote control? French isn't so sure. like remotely piloted platforms and cybersystems. "I've seen firsthand how modern tools."Most warrior cultures share one belief. Drone warfare represents a new threat to soldiers' humanity. French. In Homer's epic poem." she says. have changed the way wars are fought. "I'm taking a risk so it feels more honorable. even from afar. "In a much more profound sense. The petition says awarding medals to soldiers who wage war via remote control was an "injustice" to those who risked their lives in combat. but it's not unique. Am I truly honorable?" . What is this bond that surfaces between enemies during and after battle? It's called the warrior's code. Union and Confederate troops risked their lives to aid one another during the Civil War. British and German troops gathered for post-war reunions. The Pentagon recently announced it would award a new Distinguished Warfare Medal to soldiers who operate drones and launch cyberattacks. the Romans and Native Americans. and one of those things is to completely lose your humanity. two medals earned in combat. Butchering civilians. the rules are there to protect the people doing the actual fighting. French says. Thousands of U." Still. says Shannon E. "People think of the rules of war primarily as a way to protect innocent civilians from being victims of atrocities. desecrating the enemies' bodies -. At least 17. author of "Code of the Warrior.Their story is extraordinary. there's a sense that I'm putting skin in the game. torturing prisoners. "There is something worse than death. and have done." she says. "The Iliad. critics ask. Someone who kills at a distance -. the Samurai. French says. The code is ancient as civilization itself. things that are unfathomable.

saluted a ground crewman and took off in pursuit. He looked closer at the tail gunner. he decided to attack it from behind. squinted into his gun sight and placed his hand on the trigger. If someone reported him. As the bomber disappeared behind some trees. Yet Stigler was driven by something deeper than glory. August. You fight by rules to keep your humanity. its guns knocked out. He eased his index finger off the trigger. Franz Stigler wondered for years what happened to the American pilot he encountered in combat. American pilots had killed Stigler's comrades and were bombing his country's cities. was a fellow Luftwaffe pilot who had been killed earlier in the war. He could see men huddled inside the plane tending the wounds of other crewmen. his white fleece collar soaked with blood.not your enemy. Looking up. Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. Stigler tossed his cigarette aside. Stigler craned his neck to examine the rest of the bomber.The German pilot who took mercy Revenge. He could trace his family's ancestry to knights in 16th century Europe. not honor. Stigler wasn't just motivated by vengeance that day. As Stigler's fighter rose to meet the bomber. risked death in Nazi Germany. who once told him: "You follow the rules of war for you -. His older brother. Then he nudged his plane alongside the bomber's wings and locked eyes with the pilot whose eyes were wide with shock and horror. One more kill and he would win The Knight's Cross. He also lived by a code. he would be executed. German's highest award for valor. is what drove 2nd Lt. It would be murder. He couldn't shoot. though. Stigler wasn't just any fighter pilot. he saw a B-17 flying so low it looked like it was going to land. He was still. A German pilot who spared the enemy. He climbed behind the sputtering bomber. Stigler was standing near his fighter on a German airbase when he heard a bomber's engine." . Its skin had been peeled away by shells. He had once studied to be a priest. He was about to fire when he hesitated. Franz Stigler to jump into his fighter that chilly December day in 1943. No one in the bomber fired at him. Yet Stigler could also hear the voice of his commanding officer. He was an ace. Stigler was baffled.

At times. That sudden recognition can spring from many sources in battle -. On the Eastern Front. they would quickly die. Marines and Japanese soldiers took no prisoners. Fortunes turned quickly because so many battles were fought by fast-moving tanks and mobile units. The North African desert during World War II was one such place. a soldier feels more of a bond with the enemy they're fighting than with the countrymen back home. "In many ways. Some British and German soldiers never forgot how their enemy treated them and staged reunions after the war." Pressfield says. "The enemy they're fighting is equally risking death. author of "Killing Rommel. He nodded at the American pilot and began flying in formation so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground wouldn't shoot down the slow-moving bomber. also known as the "Desert Fox. U. the desert sun was so harsh that both sides knew if they left enemy prisoners stranded or mistreated. It caused him to take mercy. a group of British commandos tried to sneak behind enemy lines and assassinate Rommel in the North African desert." Once." Stigler said to himself. sharing a common language. Pressfield says. Then he saluted him. Pressfield says. peeled his fighter away and returned to Germany. And in the South Pacific.hearing the moans of a wounded enemy.) Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look at the American pilot. Stigler changed his mission. when a Union officer mortally wounded a Confederate captain during the Civil War." Pressfield says.S. "The Germans and the British used to get together for soccer matches. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Also. and the troops get the message.It was not unusual for German and British doctors to work together while taking care of wounded soldiers from both sides. some scholars say. Before the captain died." There were battle zones during World War II where that type of magnanimity was almost impossible. or opening the wallet of an enemy and seeing pictures of his wife and children. author of "My Brother's Keepers. They failed. says Daniel Rolph. That respect for the enemy's humanity typically starts at the top." One time. German and Russian soldiers literally hated one another. says Steven Pressfield. A German unit that captured British soldiers could end up surrendering to them minutes later because the battle lines were so fluid. "You're in God's hands. Pressfield says. the terrain can force soldiers to follow the code. "Good luck.Alone with the crippled bomber. the Union man sang hymns and prayed with his enemy as the man took his last breaths. (The Luftwaffe had B-17s of its own. he asked the Union ." That bond could even lead to acts of loyalty after the war. They shared a sense of hardship." What creates the bond between enemies? Stigler was able to recognize the common humanity of the enemy when he locked eyes with Brown. A military leader who embodied this approach was one of Germany's greatest World War II commanders. shot down and rebuilt for secret missions and training." These soldiers weren't just engaging in nostalgia. They had survived an ordeal that most people could not understand. A leader sets the tone. "It was the Desert Foxes versus the Desert Rats. But Rommel insisted the commandos be buried in the same graveyard as the German soldiers who died defending him.

Moore traveled to Vietnam to pay his respects to his former enemy's family. With prayer and tears. was a U. Rolph says.. Charles Brown wasn't thinking of the philosophical connection between enemies..a request the soldier honored after the war ended. Moore led some of his soldiers back to Vietnam to meet their former adversaries on the same battlefield. Moore described in an essay what happened next: "I invited all to form a circle with arms extended around each other's shoulders and we bowed our heads. " In 1965. but in his dream there would be no act of mercy.officer to return his sword and revolver to his family -. Late in life. Who was he? Why did he save my life? . Moore lost 79 of his men fighting against a larger North Vietnamese force. Harold Moore Jr. He had to find that German pilot. Life moved on." An died two years after meeting Moore. Brown flew more missions before the war ended. State Department during the Vietnam War and eventually retired to Florida. He would awaken just before his bomber crashed. we openly shared our painful memories.S. He started having nightmares. Hiya. After his bomber came to a stop. with his wife. In 1993. And Young. An held out his arms and greeted Moore by kissing him on both cheeks. found peace after his reunion with Franz Stigler. supervised foreign aid for the U. Charles Brown. he leaned back in his chair and put a hand over a pocket Bible he kept in his flight jacket. the encounter with the German pilot began to gnaw at him. Then he sat in silence. When they arrived." Rolph says. He flew back to his base in England and landed with barely any fuel left. Jackie (left). "I even have an article from The New York Times in 1886 where Union soldiers who were on the pension rolls of the federal government were actually trying to transfer their money toward Confederate soldiers. Brown took on a new mission. though. 2nd Lt. with his wife. "We Were Soldiers Once . It was one of the first major battles in the Vietnam War. He was thinking of survival. Army colonel who led a desperate fight depicted in the 2002 Mel Gibson film. Nguyen Huu An. Gen. A reunion of enemies As he watched the German fighter peel away that December day. Moore met the Vietnamese officer who led troops against him.S. had two daughters. These bonds can even form between enemies who do not share a language or a culture. While visiting their home. Lt. Moore spotted a familiar object displayed in the viewing case of An's family shrine: It was his wristwatch. Moore gave him his wristwatch as a token of friendship. He got married.

THANK YOU on behalf of my surviving crewmembers and their families appears totally inadequate. says his oldest daughter. 1990. did she make it or not?" It was Stigler.On January 18. "My God. Brown's daughter says her father would worry about Stigler's health and constantly check in on him. Brown had to do more. They talked about once a week. Only 1. Stigler sighed and his square jaw tightened. British Columbia. Brown received a letter." Makos says. that he couldn't wait to see Stigler. Makos says. He finally placed an ad in a German newsletter for former Luftwaffe pilots. "Dear Charles. He wrote a letter to Stigler in which he said: "To say THANK YOU. The mood then changed. retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the pilot. "They really did feel for each other. Both men looked like retired businessmen: they were plump. They met as enemies but Franz Stigler. Someone asked Stigler what he thought about Brown. He dialed the number.200 survived. ended up as fishing buddies. it's you!" Brown shouted as tears ran down his cheeks. All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17. He became a prosperous businessman. He called directory assistance for Vancouver and asked whether there was a number for a Franz Stigler. He opened it and read:He scoured military archives in the U. though. Charlie. "The war cost him everything." The two pilots would meet again." . They would fly cross-country to each other homes and take road trips together to share their story at schools and veterans' reunions. "It wasn't just for show. and Stigler picked up. Brown and Stigler became pals.S. He had had left Germany after the war and moved to Vancouver. It was the one thing he could be proud of. on left. Stigler had lost his brother. became friends. Their wives." The meeting helped Brown as well. He attended a pilots' reunion and shared his story. in 1953. There were 28. He began to fight back tears before he said in heavily accented English: "I love you. THANK YOU. sporting neat ties and formal shirts. Jackie Brown and Hiya Stigler. They would take fishing trips together. Stigler told Brown that he would be in Florida come summer and "it sure would be nice to talk about our encounter. but this time in the lobby of a Florida hotel. author Makos says he understands why Stigler experienced such a surge of emotions. "Charlie Brown was the only good thing that came out of World War II for Franz. One of Brown's friends was there to record the summer reunion. Now retired. They talked about their encounter in a light. Dawn Warner.000 pilots who fought for the German air force. and England." she says. his friends and his country. He was virtually exiled by his countrymen after the war." Brown was so excited. jovial tone. and Charles Brown." Years later.

Franz http://www. Warner says: "The nightmares went away. Makos opened the book and saw an inscription Stigler had written to Brown: In 1940. relatives -. I lost my only brother as a night fighter. along with their extended families. but one day. Stigler had given the book to something else happened to her father. Stigler was 92. Charlie Brown.html . He was poking through Brown's library when he came across a book on German fighter jets.As his friendship with Stigler deepened. He invited Stigler as a guest of honor. Stigler and Brown died within months of each other in 2008.newsforage. is for me.because of Stigler's act of chivalry. They had started off as enemies. Thanks Charlie. He organized a reunion of his surviving crew members. Makos discovered what that was by accident while spending a night at Brown's house. On the 20th of December." Warner says. not just him. During the reunion. "Everybody was crying. a plane so badly damaged it was a wonder that she was still flying. 4 days before Christmas. and Brown was 87. Your Brother. a video was played showing all the faces of the people that now lived -." Brown had written a letter of thanks to Stigler. The pilot. as precious as my brother was. I had the chance to save a B-17 from her destruction. became friends. and then something more.children. he showed the extent of his gratitude. Both were country boys who loved to read about planes. grandchildren. Stigler watched the film from his seat of honor.