Today I downloaded a new bestseller on my kindle about the Second World War. A Higher Call by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander is an incredible true story of the fraternal bond of warriors across the battle lines. Part of it reads as a war memoir as well as a tale of mutual humanity. In the first few chapters the reader learns about The lives of then 2nd Lt. Charles Brown of West Virginia and Oberleutnant (Senior Lieutenant) Franz Stigler of Bavaria, and how they were forever changed one December day in 1943.
In the course of the story Charles “Charlie” Brown struggles to bring his bomber back from his first mission over the skies of Germany. On his crews attempt to destroy the German war production complex in Bremen, their plane was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire on their approach. Almost immediately, as they dropped out of formation, they were set upon by 15 enemy fighters. With his tail gunner dead, four wounded and two engines dying, Brown had no choice but to dive below cloud cover.
When he struggled for altitude, he noticed an ME 109 next to his cockpit. The enemy plane had a large kill Talley on its tail, signifying an ace pilot. The veteran enemy ace was Franz Stigler, part of a dwindling number of German pilots from the start of the war. As Brown’s plane flew over the treetops it caught the attention of Stigler, who signaled his crew chief to ready his plane. As he climbed in pursuit he thought of personal glory as he was a few points shy of earning the Knights Cross, Germany’s wartime Medal Of Honor. He also thought of revenge for the death of his brother and fellow pilot August, killed earlier in the war as well as taking down one of the bombers responsible for targeting his home country. As Stigler closed in and peered over his gun sights he noticed the rear gunner of the enemy plane was dead.
Staying his hand from the trigger, he flew beside the American plane. He could see the fuselage peeled away by Flak guns, the machine guns were knocked out and the crew tending to their wounded crew mates stared at his plane in sheer terror. Upon reaching the cockpit, Lt. Brown saw his plane whose eyes were also wide in shock and disbelief. Stigler matched his planes speed and weighed of his options. His need for vengeance and honor would be satisfied upon destroying the bomber. Yet, he also thought of his families ancestry as he was descended from an old knighthood, holding honor above other virtues. He also aspired to become a Catholic priest before the war. The thought of treason entered his mind as a German servicemen who spared the life of an enemy would face execution. He finally remembered his old mentor, Ace pilot Gustav Roedel, telling the then inexperienced Stigler in 1939 that to shoot a defenseless pilot would be murder.
After deciding to spare his enemy, Stigler escorted Brown’s plane. He acted as a shield so his comrades manning Flak guns wouldn’t shoot. When the bomber reached the north sea, he saluted and dove out of sight. The respective pilots kept their silence. Stigler out of fear of being informed upon and executed by the Gestapo. Brown was told by his Wing Commander to stay silent for fear of spreading positive propaganda about the enemy.
After decades the two found one another via an ad for a military aviators gathering. The two met in florida in 1990 and began a friendship that lasted until 2008, when they died months apart from each other. In their respective obituaries they referred to each other as their brother.
This book is an amazing example of wartime endurance and the triumph of the human spirit. It certainly should share book space with Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Enjoy it, you certainly will.