On Dec. 20, 1943, a young American named Charlie Brown was on his first World War II mission. Flying in the German skies, Brown’s B-17 bomber was shot and badly damaged. As Brown and his men desperately tried to escape enemy territory back to England, a German fighter plane pulled up to their tail. It seemed certain death. Instead of shooting the plane down, however, the German pilot, Franz Stigler, escorted the Americans to safety. In his new book, “A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II,” author Adam Makos describes the fateful wartime encounter, and how the two men found each other nearly 50 years later.
Author of "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II."
Four days before Christmas 1943, in the darkest hours of WWII, a miracle took place. Two enemies—an American bomber pilot and a German fighter ace—met in combat over Germany and did the unexpected: They decided not to kill one another. Even more incredibly, as old men, they found one another and became best friends.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II” by Adam Makos. Copyright 2012 by Adam Makos. Reprinted here by permission of Berkley Hardcover. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Charlie Brown was a farm boy from West Virginia. Franz Stigler was a former German airline pilot from Bavaria. Sixty-nine years ago today, as fighter pilots in World War II,1 the two men met over the wartime skies of Germany.
MS. DIANE REHMTheir encounter as enemies resulted in a friendship that would last until their deaths. Author and journalist Adam Makos recounts the story in his new book "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story Of Combat And Chivalry In The War-Torn Skies Of World War II".
MS. DIANE REHMAdam Makos joins me in the studio. We'll take your calls throughout the hour, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you.
MR. ADAM MAKOSGood morning, Diane.
REHMIt's good to have you here, Adam. I know you grew up fascinated by World War II and stories of the greatest generation. Where did all that come from? You're a young man.
MAKOSYes, I'm 31 actually. My grandfathers, when I was growing up, both had served in the World War II era. One was in the Pacific, one was a Marine stateside.
MAKOSAnd they -- I was lucky, they took an interest in me and so we would travel to airshows together, to World War II museums and they planted that seed of interest in that black and white era of theirs and I just took to it and was enamored.
REHMAnd how did you come on the story of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler?
MAKOSI had been working for a small aviation magazine that I founded with my brother and best friend back in high school. So we would interview veterans from down the street. We interviewed veterans from across the country and they all kept whispering and hinting and speaking of this legendary story from the war.
MAKOSThey said, did you ever hear of the German who let the American bomber escape? And I hadn't. And I said, well, I haven't, but I'm going to look into this. And that's when I began looking for this man named Charlie Brown.
REHMHow long did it take for you to find him?
MAKOSIt wasn't -- it didn't take too long to find Charlie. But when I found him, he really shocked me. He threw me for a loop. I said, Mr. Brown, could I do an interview with you? I sent him a magazine and I sent him a letter. And when we were on the phone, he said, Adam I'd love to give you an interview, but I have to stop you there.
MAKOSIf you want this story, if you really believe in this story, you're not going to talk to me first. He said, you're going to go talk to Franz Stigler, my older brother. In this story, I'm just a character. Franz Stigler is the hero.
REHMThat's very interesting. Now that you've set this up for us, why don't you read from the book telling what happened.
MAKOSOkay, all right. I'll master my best Edward Murrow voice, which I don't have. Okay, so this is from the center of the book. This is the crux of the story, "A Higher Call" and it's about Franz Stigler, the hero that Charlie Brown spoke of.
MAKOS"Franz had seen planes come back from battle shot to pieces, but he had never seen anything like this. Every foot of the bomber's metal had silver holes where the bullets had entered and flaked away the paint. Franz became entranced with wonder, kicking his rudder pedal, nudging the throttle forward a bit. He swung his 109 past the tail and flew along the bomber's right side parallel to the fuselage.
MAKOSFranz scanned the craft for guns and saw that the bomber's crew was not turning them on him. He saw that the waist gun was missing, blasted from its mount. He saw that the top turret was empty and that the radio room had been blown apart.
MAKOSHe flew just high enough that he was beyond the elevation of the ball turret. Then alongside the bomber Franz saw something troubling. Exploding shells had stripped away its skin in the waist. Through the plane's exposed ribs he saw its crew huddled over one another, caring for their wounded.
MAKOSMoving forward Franz settled his 109 into position above the bomber's right wingtip. He could see that the bomber's nose was blown away. The plane flew as if held up by an invisible string. What now, Franz thought. Suddenly movement beneath the bomber drew his eyes.
MAKOSFranz watched as the ball turret gunner swiveled his guns toward him. You'd shoot me if you could, Franz thought. He knew the turret lacked the elevation to aim at him. From his turret Blackie, the gunner, looked in shock at the 109 pilot.
MAKOSA minute before Blackie had prepared to die expecting the 109 pilot to shoot him from the sky after he had disappeared from behind the tail. But the pilot had never fired. Instead the German fighter pilot now flew in formation with the American bomber. Blackie abandoned his efforts to clear his guns. Instead he folded his hands. What are you waiting for? Blackie said quietly as the German's eyes met his.
MAKOSThe Franz Stigler who went to Africa to avenge his brother's death would have had an answer. He would have destroyed the bomber and killed its crew. But there in the desert and over ancient Sicily the last of Europe's knights had taught Franz Stigler a new code.
MAKOSTheir code said to fight with fearlessness and restraint, to celebrate victories, not death and to know when it was time to answer a higher call. Franz gazed at the men in the waist tending to one another's wounds. He looked into the ashen face of the ball turret gunner.
MAKOSHe thought about what his brother, August, would have done. A gear clicked in Franz' soul. He laid a hand over the pocket of his jacket and felt his rosary beads within. This will be no victory for me Franz decided. I will not have this on my conscience for the rest of my life.
MAKOS"Franz saw the coast a few miles ahead. There he knew alarms were blaring and soldiers were running to their guns. Any second explosions would ring out showering the bomber in a rain of steel. Franz had chosen to spare the bomber's crew from his own guns, a gesture that would have been enough for most men."
MAKOSBut Franz decided he would try something more. Looking along the wing and into the cockpit he saw the co-pilot was absent. Through the shadows he saw the pilot in the left seat, his hands gripping the controls. Franz waved, trying to get the pilot's attention but the man stared straight ahead.
MAKOSFranz remained on the bomber's wing, the machine's laboring engines drowning out his 109's purr. He wanted to shout to the pilot to tell him that time was running out."
REHMAn extraordinary story and what Franz finally does to allow Charlie Brown, who is the pilot, to know that he's going to do everything he can to guide the plane to safety is to salute.
MAKOSIt's a gesture that shocks Charlie and Charlie doesn't reply in kind. First, he closes his eyes and shakes his head when he sees this German on his wing. Then when he sees the man relaxed, calm, smiling, nodding, and saluting him Charlie doesn't salute back because he thinks that this German pilot is toying with him.
MAKOSHe's going to shoot him down over the water. He's going to shoot him down at any minute. He doesn't realize that this German pilot, Franz Stigler, has decided to, in essence, betray his own country and escort the American plane out of German airspace.
REHMAnd how does he do that?
MAKOSCharlie was already flying in the right direction, toward the North Sea. He knew if he could get to the North Sea he could get to England. But the fear was that if another German plane came along, game over.
MAKOSCharlie's bomber was shot to pieces so badly it couldn't defend itself. So Franz knew that if he stayed there on Charlie's wing no one would try to molest this American bomber, no other German fighter plane, no German guns on the ground. They wouldn't shoot at him.
MAKOSSo Franz stayed there. And at first he tried a couple of things. He pointed to the ground and he was trying to say, land in Germany, land in Germany. You're never going to make it across the sea. And Charlie just looked confused, shook his head and didn't quite get it.
MAKOSThen as they flew a little further, Franz pointed to Sweden and he was saying Sweden, Sweden, go to Sweden. Of course, they're just communicating between the cold, thin air between them and Charlie can't hear him. He doesn't know what he's saying and Charlie shakes his head again.
MAKOSAnd that's when Franz says, oh boy, I can't. I've done everything I can. Good luck, you're in God's hands and he just stays with him and that's it.
REHMAnd they fly to safety?
MAKOSThey do. They go out over the North Sea. Charlie becomes unnerved after a while. He has a German fighter plane, the world's worst nightmare on his right wing and eventually he says to one of his gunners, get up in your turret and turn your guns toward this guy and chase him away. I don't know what he wants with us but I don't like him.
MAKOSFranz sees this, the guns start to turn. He salutes Charlie and he says, good luck you're in God's hands and he peels off and he flies back to Germany. The encounter is over and it had only lasted ten minutes.
REHMAnd Charlie Brown, I mean, every time I hear his name, one smiles because one thinks of the comic strip, "Peanuts," but this was a true Charlie Brown.
MAKOSIt was -- the original Charlie Brown and just like the "Peanuts" character, I hate to make this parallel, but Charlie was a really good guy. You know, he was a farm kid from West Virginia, like you said. He grew up very poor. He cared for his father because he lost his mother at a very early age and his father fell into a deep depression so Charlie almost became the father of his family.
MAKOSSo he cared for his father, poor as can be. He used to work as a janitor after school at the local elementary school and in the mornings, he would milk the cows so he was a hard worker, came from nothing. And then, World War II comes and due to his talent and aptitude and love of country, he becomes a B-17 pilot. So he goes from farm boy and janitor to captain of a four-engine bomber with nine men's lives in his hands.
REHMAnd this was his first flight?
MAKOSIt was his first mission with his whole crew.
REHMWow, and the crew must have looked at this young man and thought, whose hands are we in?
MAKOSHe was just 21 years old. Now, he told the crew that he was older than that. He said I'm 24. And he did that so they wouldn't worry because he was just this fresh-faced kid. He had a very square face, very worrisome-looking eyes, very shy eyes. But he was just a simple, good person and they respected him.
REHMAdam Makos, his new book is titled "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story Of Combat and Chivalry In The War-Torn Skies Of World War II". Do join us. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAdam Makos is here with me. He's telling us the story, an incredible but true story, of an incident that occurred during World War II. He's written a new book. It's titled, "A Higher Call." If you'd like to join us, call us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You've told us about Charlie Brown. Tell us about Franz Stigler. He was the German pilot who ultimately saved this American pilot flying the B-17 and his crew.
MAKOSThe book has these two heroes. So you've got the American hero and the German hero. And it's a very unusual war story in that you very seldom, if ever, see the war from both sides. So that's -- I'm so grateful to have found these two men and interview them. Franz is the hero we follow before Charlie in the book, because Franz went to war earlier than Charlie did. Franz grew up a young boy who loved to fly gliders in Southern Germany.
MAKOSHe flew with his older brother, and that was their passion. Now his mother wanted him to become a priest. She had her own designs for him. And Franz faces this turning point where a priest said to him, Franz, follow your heart, you only have to answer to God. And your mother will get over it. Do what you want to do. And Franz said, I want to be a pilot. And the priest said, go do it then.
MAKOSSo that idea of you only have to answer to a higher call, a higher power, it's important. A seed was planted when he was young. So Franz becomes an airline pilot. He's enjoying his life and suddenly World War II breaks out. One day the German air force shows up and they say, hey, guess what, you're flying for us now. In Germany in World War II, you didn't say no. The whole country went to war and everyone was drafted, everyone went to war. There was no hiding out from that.
REHMHow did Franz Stigler feel about the Nazis?
MAKOSHe was deeply opposed to them. His family, they were a Bavarian Catholic family. And when Hitler came to power, when the Nazis really took power in 1933, his family had voted against them. And much of Germany had voted against them. And that's something that not many people know about. There were good Germans. When the Nazis essentially won the election to take power, they won with 44 percent of the vote.
MAKOSThat means 56 percent of the country were like Franz's family. They voted for parties other than the National Socialist. So there were a lot of good Germans in the last election that Germany had. After that, Hitler came to power, abolished elections, abolished political parties, took over the media and every facet of life. And at the time, Franz was just a 17-year-old boy. So he wasn't following politics, but he knew enough, he knew what his parents believed, he knew what his neighbors believed and he was apathetic at first and then anti-Nazi as he grew up.
REHMBut nevertheless, drafted, if you will, to fly for the Nazis.
MAKOSExactly. He was made a flight instructor first. So he's training young pilots to go off to war because, again, Franz doesn't want to get into the fighting. One day, a new student comes into his classroom. It's his older brother August. And his brother said, listen, everybody's getting drafted. I decided I'd rather fly than walk in the mud or fight in the trenches, so I became a pilot. And Franz said, why did you do this? This is a mistake.
MAKOSFranz trains his brother, as passionately as he can. He goes above and beyond to make sure his brother will survive the war. His brother August goes off to war and is immediately killed. So it's devastating because that was Franz's life. So now, the Germans, the Nazis have taken his brother, but Franz succumbs in a strange way. He succumbs to that human emotion, universal emotion, he wants revenge. So he says, I'm tired of being a flight instructor, they just killed my brother, I want to be a fighter pilot.
REHMSo he ends up in Northern Africa and the Germans are fighting the British there. What did this experience mean for him?
MAKOSThis experience was a great wake-up call for Franz. He goes to the desert eager for revenge, and before his first mission, his commanding officer sits him down on the wheel of his plane, a man named Roedel. And Roedel says, Franz, first of all, the rules are different in the desert, we fight with chivalry, we fight with honor. The desert was almost like an extension of World War I. The British pilots and the German pilots fought each other with a great deal of civility.
MAKOSAnd, you know, it was the idea of chivalry, it was still alive then. And it died as World War II went on. As the war became more virulent and uglier, the idea of chivalry died. But before that first mission, Roedel said, Franz, what are you going to do if you shoot down a plane and you find a man in a parachute? And Franz said, sir, I haven't thought that far ahead. And Roedel said, well, I'm going to tell you how things are going to be.
MAKOSIf I ever hear or see you shoot a man in a parachute, I will shoot you down myself. And the words just stung Franz because here he's already nervous and now his commanding officer is saying, I'm going to shoot you if you even consider this. And then Roedel said, now listen, son, he puts a hand on Franz's shoulder and he says, you fight by the rules of war for yourself not for your enemy.
MAKOSYou fight by the rules of war so you can keep your soul. And the rules are what separates men from animals. So Roedel was thinking, Franz, if you survive this war, I want you to be able to have a clean conscience for the rest of your life. And that wisdom changed Franz and he slowly will be watching change.
REHMThis incident which you described earlier, once Charlie Brown gets back to safety, does he report it directly to his commanding officer?
MAKOSHe does. Charlie -- it's a harrowing mission, his journey across the North Sea because his plane is down to -- two engines are essentially functioning, so he barely makes it to England, barely lands and his crew just survived this harrowing mission where they've almost all been killed and then they've been rescued by this German fighter pilot. And he sits down for a debriefing. They did this after every mission.
MAKOSAnd the debriefing officer, a man named Harper, made him a shot of scotch to loosen the wheels, I guess you could say. And Charlie tells him, okay, here's what happened to us. We were hit over the target, we were attacked by 15 enemy fighters. One of my men was killed, four were wounded. We fell out of the sky. We're flying home and then this German fighter pilot shows up and flies alongside of us.
MAKOSAnd the interrogation officer, Harper, says, wait, stop. A German flies alongside of you? And then Charlie describes in great detail what this unknown German did. It was a mystery to him. Nobody knew why he did it. But then Harper said, Charlie, I think you're going to get a lot of medals for this. This is incredible. Your crew, I'm passing this up to headquarters right now.
MAKOSSo he sends Charlie off. He says, go get a sandwich in the officer's club and we'll talk. So Charlie goes and he tells his crew, hey, we're all going to get medals, it sounds like. Half hour later, hour later, Harper comes up and he says, Charlie, we've got a big problem here. The brass has said, keep a lid on this thing. No medals are coming to your crew and if you guys utter a word of this, you're going to face a court marshal.
REHMAnd the question is why?
MAKOSCharlie is shocked. He just survived December 20th, the worst day in his life and now he's being told that there's going to be a cover up essentially. And the reason is, the Americans didn't want, the 8th Air Force didn't want the story of a chivalrous German flier to escape because another bomber's gunners might see a German come up slow and fly up toward their wing and they didn't want anyone holding their fire for even a second thinking that some German wanted to fly with them or escort them.
MAKOSThey wanted our guys to see the enemy as monsters. It was war. That was their job. And so Charlie took it in stride. He said, all right, I'm not happy with it but I'll live with it. And the man said, good, that's what you came here to do, you're a bomber pilot. I want you to go back and bomb Germany again and again and again until this war is over.
REHMAnd what about Franz when he returns to his base?
MAKOSFranz returns to his base and he doesn't utter a word of this incident. If he told anyone, he would be taken outside and shot. I don't even know if they would have taken him outside, they would have just shot him. Because in those days, you could be shot or killed by the guillotine as many German civilians were for speaking out against the Nazi party, for telling a joke against Hitler, let alone escorting an enemy bomber out of Germany to allow it to come back and bomb German cities and perhaps kill German people again and again and again.
MAKOSIt was an act of treason. But, as Franz saw it, it was an act of saving his soul and honoring his humanity.
REHMHis rosary, Franz's rosary, present in that reading that you gave us and the statement that have been made to him shooting a man in a parachute, he saw a parallel between that statement and this wounded plane.
MAKOSExactly. He had the background of faith that he'd grown up with. So he knew he was accountable to God and he knew God was watching. And so that was in his mind. And then when he saw the plane defenseless, that's when the parachute analogy hit him. He said, this will be no victory for me. I will not have this on my conscience for the rest of my life. And he chose his humanity over his nationality.
REHMYou know, it's just fascinating when we think about the utter brutality that exists not only in war but even around us as we live today to think about this moment, this 10 minutes in these two men's lives and your pursuit thereof. So what happens to Charlie after the war?
MAKOSAfter the war, Charlie stays in the U.S. Air Force, builds a career out of it and lives a happy life. He moves to Miami, Florida, raises a family. Now, Charlie in the latter years is haunted still by this memory of this German. It never leaves him. He's at a reunion of his pilot class and the men are sitting around the hospitality room, drinking and swapping stories. And one of them, a man named Joe Jackson, said, Charlie, what's the most amazing thing that happened to you in the war?
MAKOSAnd Charlie smiles and he said, well, Joe, you know, one time I was saluted by a German fighter pilot. And all the men started laughing. And Joe said, all right, tell that one. And Charlie told it. And everybody was spellbound. They'd never heard of such a thing. And then Joe said something very important. He said, Charlie, that man may still be alive. It's 1985, he may be out there. You should try to find him.
MAKOSAnd Charlie said, wow, okay. It's a big world. I don't know the German's name. We never exchanged a word. We just flew beside each other in silence. How am I ever going to do this. And he began to search the world.
REHMHow in the world could he have found him?
MAKOSAt first, he tried the official route. So he went to archives and he would look for records. Oh, can I find the pilots who were flying at that place at that time? And so many of the records from World War II were either destroyed in bombings. They were useless. Then he found a stat that said there were 40,000 German fighter pilots in World War II and only 2,000 survived. So Charlie was a bit crestfallen. He said, he's likely dead.
MAKOSAnd still, though, he had that lingering question, who was this man and why did he save my life? So he kept looking. He kept looking. Finally, he put an ad in a magazine for retired German pilots. And at his home in Vancouver, Canada, Franz Stigler wandered out to his mailbox, found his newsletter. It was 1990, January, when he opened it up and saw this ad looking for the German pilot who spared my life on December 20, 1943, north of Bremen, Germany.
MAKOSIf you know the details, contact me. Charlie Brown. Franz sat down, penned the letter and history was made.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, how did Franz feel about being found by Charlie Brown?
MAKOSFranz was incredibly relieved. He needed this to heal, as much as Charlie did. Because Franz had wondered for 47 years since the war, he had wondered was it worth it? Was the risk I took worth it? And did they survive? When he said goodbye to that American bomber, he didn't know if it was going to make it across the ocean. He didn't know if those men all met a watery grave or not or if they came home and they lived good lives and they raised families.
MAKOSSo it mattered to him. So when he saw that, he wrote Charlie a letter and he said, Charlie, I'm just glad it was worth it. He said, maybe someday we can meet. Charlie got this letter and it just, the tears started flowing and he told his wife, this could be him. This could be him. But he didn't know. He had this -- Charlie was skeptical. He said, what are the odds that this man -- I have to vet him.
MAKOSSo instead of writing him a letter, Charlie picked up the phone and he said, I'm going to call the Vancouver operator and he got a hold of Franz Stigler. So they have this awkward first conversation. And Charlie says, okay. So, Mr. Stigler, you claim you saved my life over northern Germany. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And they started talking about it. Charlie says, all right, I've got a question for you. I've held back some information.
MAKOSI didn't put this in the ad. The German who saved my life, where, if you are he, where did you say goodbye to us? Where were we when we said goodbye? Because Charlie only advertised it happened over northern Germany.
MAKOSAnd Franz said, well, I took you out over the ocean. I saluted you and flew away. And that's when Charlie said, my God, it's you. And then they both started crying on the phone and they both say, we must meet. We must meet.
REHMAnd they finally do meet on June 21, 1990 in Seattle. The reunion is videotaped. I want you, our listeners, to hear this first clip.
MR. FRANZ STIGLERIt's hard to describe if you see an airplane that's so crippled, you know positively that there were badly wounded people on board. And for me, it would have been the same as shooting at a parachute. I just couldn't shoot. And so this -- I just hoped that brought his wounded men home.
REHMAnd there is that line, it would have been like shooting a man on a parachute.
MAKOSExactly. It's -- you see their faces in this video clip, you hear their voices and this overwhelming sense of truth comes through. And you just -- it takes you back. You see the strange love that these two men have for each other, even though they're all but strangers. Because that bond that was formed in 1943 on December 20th stayed with them their whole lives. And Charlie described Franz as being like a brother he hadn't seen in 40 years.
REHMAnd how old are they when they finally meet?
MAKOSThey're in their very late 80s.
REHMLate 80s. Adam Makos, he's the author of a new book. It's titled, "A Higher Call." We'll take a short break and come back for your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Adam Makos is with me. He's written his extraordinary story of two men who met during World War II. Two pilots, one American one German, the German assisted the American pilot who was in an extraordinarily wounded plane with one wounded man on board to safety. His new book is titled, "A Higher Call." We do have a video of the two men on our website at drshow.org. Going to open the phones now 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Oklahoma City, good morning Joseph. You're on the air.
JOSEPHGood morning, Diane, and the happiest of holidays to everybody out there.
REHMThank you so much.
JOSEPHAdam, first of all, thank you for writing this book. As an historian and history professor I know that we lose about 1,400 World War II veterans a day. And those are stories that we'll never get to hear or appreciate unless somebody like you writes a story. But I'm curious -- I'm from West Virginia and you had mentioned earlier that Captain Brown was from West Virginia, as well. I'm curious if you could tell us from where in West Virginia he's from. And did you, in fact, have an opportunity to speak to his family when you were preparing all the information and evidence necessary for you to publish your book?
MAKOSThanks a lot, Joseph. I appreciate it. Charlie was from Westin, West Virginia. So I'm not sure if you know that spot. I guess it's a hilly mountainous little country. Charlie went -- in part of the book describes when he buzzed his old hometown. Right after he got his wings he took the B-17 and he flew up the river in Westin and buzzed the town and blew the dust through the streets. And that was a great moment for a West Virginia farm boy.
MAKOSCharlie really was -- I was so lucky he was alive when I was working on this. We worked together for about four years. And he helped me in so many ways with the research. So, yes, his family was supportive of it, but I had Charlie. So I had the source. And I had Franz.
REHMYou had the source. And you had Franz, as well. You traveled a great deal to write this book.
MAKOSYes, Diane. I was just 23 when I started it. And looking back I say, wow, Adam, that's some good foresight. I don't even know how it came about. Some things are just meant to be. I think you're just -- you have a calling. And one of my callings was just to write this book to tell this story. It needed to be heard. And I had Franz and I had Charlie. So I flew to Vancouver and I flew to Miami. And I worked with them for four years. And that was the only way possible to get the amount of material we needed to write this.
REHMExactly. Let's go to Haslett, Mich. good morning, Robert.
ROBERTGood morning. I wanted to make a comment that these kinds of incidents were rare, but not all that uncommon. I wrote a book, "I-boat Captain," and a Japanese sub had an American training sailing ship in its sites, you know, during the war. And they decided not to sink it. Instead he signaled beautiful ship, have a good voyage and dove and left. Also another sub captain had a hospital ship right in its sites and he backed off once he realized that it was really a hospital ship only to be reprimanded once he got back home.
MAKOSMy feeling, Robert, I've read exactly what you're talking about. It happened on all fronts. It happened in many ways. And it's -- it answers, in a way, the question that this book poses. Can good men be found on both sides of a bad war? And what you're saying is the exact proof. Franz Stigler's proof. It happened probably more than we know.
REHMTo Joppatowne, Md., hi there, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
MIKEThank you. It's -- you know, it's interesting you were mentioning that story about the German pilot because my uncle was a German pilot back then -- in those days. And he was shot down twice. He was shot down once over Italy and once over the Russian Front. One of the stories that he told my father after the war had ended is how the -- he had done a similar thing.
MIKEHe actually was flying the Messerschmitt 262. And apparently -- the story that I got, which is secondhand, is that he flew it next to one of the American fighters. And, you know, there was a lot of -- they were looking at each other. They were, you know, pretty tense. And my uncle just waved and flew off and went his own way. And the American pilot went his way. So it's, you know, kind of very interesting.
MIKEAnd my mother, she's still alive, and she has all kinds of stories about the Second World War, what happened. You know, when she was in East Prussia and, you know, as a refugee how they had to run away -- had to run away from the Russians to when she went through Berlin and the war ended in Berlin. And, you know, all the, you know, emotional stuff and experience at the end of the war back in those days.
REHMOh, boy. Yeah, quite right. All these emotional stories.
MAKOSUh-hum. Mike, there was that -- airmen shared a bond. It wasn't as ugly of a war as it was for the men on the ground. So they respected each other. So stories like this I hear exactly what you're saying.
REHMAnd to Madison, Conn. hi Ben.
BENYes, good morning. Thank you very much for this show. I'm very pleased that you show the humanity of our enemies in this. I also have a similar story to the last caller. And my father was a German veteran who just recently passed away. And one of my uncles was a pilot who perished in the war. But it's nice to hear stories that depict these people as humans.
BENAnd on the same vent, this other gentleman who just called mentioned that his uncle was an ME 262 pilot. Some of the heroes that we hold up in high regard -- Chuck Yeager, for example -- they took him to war. The ME 262 was impossible to catch in the air. And the only way you were able to register a kill was to shoot a plane down when it was either taking off or landing. And this was often done -- the airdromes where they took off from were being circled by allied fighters. And it was little more than execution. And we rewarded people with medals and honors for doing this.
MAKOSBen you're -- you're 100 percent right. The book -- this is kind of exciting. It follows Franz throughout the war. So we see what happened to him after December 20 and how he suffered. But in the end of the war he was a jet pilot -- an ME 262 pilot just like you described. He was convinced to stay in the war by a little girl. And that's a whole story in itself. He visited a bombed out city. Met a little girl and this little girl would one day become his wife. There was about 15-year difference between them. I'm not going to spoil it. You can read the book.
MAKOSBut this little girl convinced Franz to stay in the cockpit. And to keep flying until the day the bombs stopped falling. So Franz said, all right. I'll do that. And he became a jet pilot. He flew in the jets. And he was on that firing line you're describing, almost an execution. Because at the end of war the allies had such air superiority that they killed off the German fighter pilots one by one by one. And Franz ends up being one of the last men standing.
REHMWow. Here's a -- I want to hear Charlie's voice because it's so human.
MR. CHARLIE BROWNI look out the right window and there parked on my right wing is a German BF109 just as -- the little sucker looked like he owned me and belonged there. And I was still in a bit of a state of shock and so I sort of closed my eyes and shook my head as you would with a nightmare and if I closed my eyes and opened them again, he'll be gone.
MR. CHARLIE BROWNWell, I opened them again and he was still there.
REHMWhat a guy.
MAKOSWhat a guy and what a video. The -- again for Joe Jackson to have the foresight to film Franz and Charlie on the day of their reunion, June, 1990. And to put them both in their seats and to say, Franz, how do you feel about meeting Charlie? Charlie, how do you feel about meeting Franz? It's incredible film and it's on your website. And I'm just so glad people can appreciate that. And they can see these two men. They can see their eyes.
REHMTell me about Joe Jackson.
MAKOSJoe Jackson was a Medal of Honor recipient himself from the Vietnam War. Good friend of Charlie's. So when Charlie went to reunite with Franz he said, Joe, this is going to be an emotional darn thing. You want to come with me? And Joe said I'd love to. And he brought his video camera.
MAKOSAnd somehow that video survived the years and Joe gave it to us. And we gave it to you, Diane. So it's on your website.
REHMHelp me to understand just how long the allies wanted to keep this secret.
MAKOSThe allies kept -- they told Charlie, essentially, never talk about your story again.
MAKOSAnd he did. He honored that. And for 40 some years, he didn't talk about it. Now, an amazing thing happened. In 1943, of course, the Eighth Air Force said no words for you and your crew. Never utter this again. In 2008 a beautiful thing happened. Not only did Charlie and Franz find each other. Not only did they get along great and become brothers. They called each other brothers.
MAKOSBut the U.S. Air Force called Charlie down to the Florida State capitol. And they said we were wrong 40 some years ago, 50 years ago. Here's the Air Force Cross -- the second highest award for valor in the American Military. And each of your men is going to have a Silver Star, even though they're all dead, except for one. They all get Silver Stars. So in the end Charlie's bravery was recognized.
MAKOSNow Franz never got a medal. He never was recognized. But Franz got something else. And I'll tell you about it. I found a book in Charlie's library. I wasn't supposed to find it. He just said, Adam, there's my library. Go do whatever you want. And the book had an inscription. The most haunting words I've ever read. And this was how Franz felt. It said -- and Franz gave this book to Charlie. It was about a jet fighter he flew.
MAKOSFranz wrote, "In 1940 I lost my only brother as a night fighter. On the 20th of December, four days before Christmas, I had the chance to save a B-17 from her destruction. A plane so badly damaged it was a wonder that she was still flying. The pilot, Charlie Brown, is, for me, as precious as my brother was. Thanks, Charlie. Your brother, Franz."
REHMThat just takes your breath away.
MAKOSIt knocked me out when I was there.
REHMAnd you say you weren't supposed to find it. And, yet, you did. When you showed it to Charlie what did he say?
MAKOSHe said that's Franz.
REHMThat's Franz. Let's hear Franz and Charlie talking with each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1Could you sit down and tell us what your feelings were when you two met today?
BROWNIt's almost impossible to describe. We have spent several hours on the phone so I felt that we had something in common, first, a love of air and a love of aviation. It was like meeting a family member, a brother that you haven't seen for 40 years. That's about as close as I can come.
#1Franz, what were your feelings when you met again for the first time?
STIGLERI was so happy as we (unintelligible)
REHMHe's fighting back his tears.
MAKOSAnd the next line, which people will have to go your website now to hear it and to see it. The next line is I love you, Charlie. And the camera just keeps rolling and everything goes silent. And slowly the camera swings over to Charlie and he doesn't even know what to say.
REHMI'll say you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in St. Louis, Mo., good morning, Judy.
JUDYOh, good morning. I wanted to say that today is my mom and dad's 71st wedding anniversary.
REHMWow. Yesterday was my 53rd wedding anniversary.
JUDYWell, and my dad was trained as a navigator during World War II. Although the war ended before he had to go. But I am going straight to Amazon right now to buy Adam's book. And hope I can get it for them before Christmas.
REHMOh, what a wonderful gift that will be.
JUDYWell, I'm delighted to have had this coincidence happen on their very day. And thank you very much for letting me talk to Adam.
REHMThank you for calling.
MAKOSThank you, Judy. And please do select that two-day shipping or whatever because it's getting close to Christmas. And I totally...
REHMQuite right. All right. And, finally, to Kathleen in Naples, Fla. Thanks for waiting.
KATHLEENOh, sure. Hi, Diane.
KATHLEENAnd to your guest and merry Christmas and happy New Year.
REHMMerry Christmas. Thank you.
KATHLEENThe moment -- the first couple of moments that I heard this show I couldn't believe it. Both my husband and I had chills running down our spine because my father was a navigator by the stars during World War II. He was a B-17, of course, on a flight crew. And it was the 463rd bombardment group. They were actually called the Swoose Group.
KATHLEENAnd to make a very long story short, he and his crew were flying over the Mediterranean. They got shot down -- the entire plane went down into the water. Miraculously -- I don't remember the details -- the entire crew actually made it to the mainland, but were captured. And the German soldiers that actually captured them -- my dad, by the way, broke five ribs, was in a tremendous amount of pain. I don't even know how he swam to shore, to be honest with you.
KATHLEENMy dad also is Polish. And he grew up learning Polish as a child. And somehow after they were captured he actually managed to speak Polish to the soldiers. One of them took compassion and sympathy and let them go.
MAKOSIncredible. And -- and yet again it reaffirms that premise good men can be found on both sides of a bad war. And that's -- that's why I'm so proud of Franz and Charlie. They're new heroes for these dark ages -- these dark days, I should say.
REHMAnd for you, Adam, how does this book -- how does working on it, writing it, meeting these two men who have now gone. How does it affect you?
MAKOSMeeting these two men changed my life. It changed the way I look at World War II. It changed the way I look at the person I call the enemy. It teaches you to think twice, to honor your humanity first, not just your first inclination. And learning -- if you see two enemies hug and cry and, as we see Franz do, say I love you. Then why can't we build a better world.
REHMAdam Makos, his new book is titled, "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story Of Combat And Chivalry In The War-Torn Skies of World War II." Thank you for the gift you've given to all of us.
Thursday, Jun 08 2023As the GOP presidential field continues to balloon, Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times discusses which candidates to watch and what the campaign so far says about Donald Trump's hold on the Republican Party.
Thursday, May 18 2023As President Biden's visit to Hiroshima dredges up memories of World War II, Diane talks to historian Evan Thomas about his new book, "Road to Surrender," the story of America's decision to drop the atomic bomb.
Commentscomments powered by Disqus