Heroism and honor over German skies
Last week my Kindle went to the great Kindle Outlet Store in the sky. Apparently it fell out of my pocket and I ran over it with the car. In Kindle heaven it will no doubt meet its two predecessors; the one I rolled over on top of on a camping trip and the one I left on an airplane. This caused much consternation in my house, because I read about 3 books a week and is my chief means of coping with stress.
As I sat at my desk lamenting my loss, my friend Emory sent me a link to a remarkable story about a US Air Force bomber pilot during WWII that got shot up REALLY bad, but then a german fighter pilot escorted him through the anti aircraft areas and out over the North Sea on his return to England. It was a remarkable story, and I enjoyed it very much.
A few hours later I got an email from a administrative assistant to my Editor who had just fielded a call from a guy who had given her the brief outline of the same story and asked if I knew anything about it. I said that remarkably I did, and sent her the same link that Emory had sent me. Twenty minutes later she walked into my office smiling and handed me a copy of Adam Makos’ book "A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story Of Combat And Chivalry In The War-Torn Skies Of World War II."
Had my kindle not have been broken, I very likely wouldn’t have read the book. We get hundreds of books sent here every month, and with a few exceptions, I don’t read much in the way of war stories anymore. But, it was quite fortuitous on the timing, so on Friday night I started reading it.
Mr. Makos had me pretty well hooked right in his opening paragraph in the introduction:
On December 20, 1943, in the midst of World War II, an era of pain, death, and sadness, an act of peace and nobility unfolded in the skies over Northern Germany. An American bomber crew was limping home in their badly damaged B-17 after bombing Germany. A German fighter pilot in his Bf-109 fighter encountered them. They were enemies, sworn to shoot one another from the sky. Yet what transpired between the fighter pilot and the bomber crewmen that day, and how the story played out decades later, defies imagination. It had never happened before and it has not happened since. What occurred, in most general terms, may well be one of the most remarkable stories in the history of warfare.
As remarkable as it is, it’s a story I never wanted to tell.
Mr Makos went on to talk about how as a young WWII history enthusiast he had grown up believing that WWII was nothing less than the good guys (us) against the bad guys (the Germans or “Nazis”.) But as he researched this book and spoke with Charlie Brown, the pilot of the B-17, Charlie said something that would change the story: “In this story,” Charlie said, “I’m just a character – Franz Stigler is the real hero.”
Franz was the pilot of the Bf-109, and in reading the book, you see that the good/bad dichotomy really doesn’t work. The US were certainly the good guys, and the Nazi’s (and assorted Gestapo and other “Party” individuals) were definitely the bad guys, but the German Pilots themselves don’t fall into the latter category. The honor that some of these guys showed will astound some readers.
German Pilots were very supportive to the American Pilots they shot down. In fact, often German Pilots would race to where the American pilots jumped or crashed, and take them into custody themselves to ensure that they would be placed in Luftwaffe facilities and not in “Party” ones or other POW camps. One pilot in particular, Hans-Joachim Marseille flew with Franz in Africa and had impressed upon Franz the inherent honorable nature of what was expected from German pilots.
One part of the book discusses this at some length.
…The legend went that Marseille had shot down a British pilot named Byers, who had been badly burned when captured. Marseille personally took Byers to the field hospital, where hospital staff told Marseille the prisoner’s name and unit. That evening, Marseille flew through British flak to drop a note over Byers’s airfield, addressed to his comrades. The note said that Byers was badly wounded but was being cared for. Two weeks later, when Byers died of his wounds, Marseille felt so badly that he flew back through the flak to the British field and dropped another note notifying Byers’s friends and sending deepest regrets. It was a gallant act that earned the respect of many in the Air Force except for one: the second most powerful man in The Party, who doubled as the Air Force’s leader – Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. Goering had once been an ace in the Red Baron’s squadron in WWI but had since become known throughout the Air Force with disdain. Someone had nicknamed Goering “the Fat One,” due to his heft, and it had stuck. Goering put out an edict that no pilot should ever again attempt a stunt like the one Marseille had.
“Is the story true?” Franz said to Marseille.
Schroer nodded slightly, for only Franz to see.
There was another portion of the book that talked about German Ace Günther Lützow:
…Luetzow had been the commander of Fighter Wing 3 (JG-3) on an airfield outside of Kharkov in the Ukraine, when SS soldiers came to commandeer his services. They wanted Luetzow to lend them any non-flyers he could spare to help them round up people they called “undesirables.” Luetzow knew the reputation of the SS and knew that whatever they were planning, it could not be good. When Luetzow refused to help them, the SS threatened to go around him. Luetzow called his entire wing to the tarmac in dress uniform – the pilots, the orderlies, and even the mechanics. Luetzow told them what the SS had asked of him and said he would remove his Knight’s Cross and resign from the Air Force if any of his men complied with the SS’s request.
Even as German and US (and other nations) air forces fought over the European skies, what struck me as most interesting was the fight between the honorable men of the German Luftwaffe with their German leadership.
The meeting of Charlie and Franz over Germany is just a small part of the book, but it is the tie that binds these two wonderful men. As I read through the book I did what I normally do when I really enjoy a book: I contacted the author and told him how much I enjoyed it. I’ve read some outstanding books in the past year, and this is certainly in the top echelon of those books. (With “The Outpost” by Jake Tapper, and the phenomenal “Road to Valor” by Ali McConnon which talks about an Italian Cyclist's heroism during WWII.)
Mr. Makos friended me on Facebook and had this to say:
I hope [my book] makes Franz and Charlie household names like Band of Brothers did for Dick Winters and Buck Compton and Don Malarkey
Indeed. And I also hope it allows folks to see that even amidst the atrocities that comes with war, that some people, even our enemies, are capable of honorable acts of heroism.
I hope you will pick up a copy of “A Higher Call” and enjoy it as much as I did. You can purchase it at AMAZON, at this link.