73 years ago today, one of World War II’s most incredible moments took place…
As German fighter ace Franz Stigler approached the badly damaged American B-17, he took his finger off the trigger. “My God, how are you still flying?” Franz thought. Inside the bomber’s cockpit, the 21-year-old rookie American pilot, Charlie Brown, was thinking the same thing. An air battle had shredded his B-17. When Charlie leaned forward to check an engine on his right wing, a sight made his heart skip. There, three feet from his wingtip, flew a gray German Bf-109 fighter. Charlie closed his eyes then opened them, but the German was still there. “He’s going to destroy us,” Charlie concluded. But instead, Franz Stigler did something incredible—he nodded to Charlie. In the presence of his enemy, Franz had changed. He had only become a fighter pilot to avenge his brother, a pilot killed early in the war. But there, alongside the defenseless B-17, Franz decided to break the cycle of violence, to spare the bomber and more—to escort it out of Germany.
It was a gesture that Charlie Brown would never forget. In his old age, he would search the world for Franz and in 1990 they would reunite, not as former enemies but as brothers separated for 46 years. Their story is told in the international bestselling book, “A Higher Call,” available in bookstores everywhere.
73 years after “the encounter,” we honor Charlie Brown and his guardian angel, his enemy, Franz Stigler.