Authors: Adam Makos
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AN INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF COMBAT AND CHIVALRY IN THE WAR-TORN SKIES OF WORLD WAR II
BERKLEY CALIBER, NEW YORK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2012 by Adam Makos
Jacket design by Bryan Makos of Valor Studios Inc.
Jacket photos: Franz Stigler courtesy of Franz Stigler.
Charlie Brown courtesy of Charlie Brown.
A Higher Call
© Valor Studios and John D. Shaw, 2009.
All rights reserved.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A higher call / by Adam Makos with Larry Alexander.
1. World War, 1939–1945—Aerial operations, American. 2. World War, 1939–1945—Aerial operations, German. 3. Bombing, Aerial—Germany—History—20th century. 4. Bomber pilots—United States—Biography. 5. Fighter pilots—Germany—Biography. 6. Brown, Charlie, 1912–2008. 7. Stigler, Franz, 1916–2008. I. Alexander, Larry, 1951– II. Title.
In a church graveyard in Garmisch, Germany, a headstone
stands against the backdrop of the Alps. Mounted to the stone is
a photo etched on a porcelain circle, an image of a farm boy
hugging a cow. He was killed while serving in World War II.
This book is dedicated to him and all the young men who
answered their countries’ calls but never wanted war.
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.
, I had loved my grandfathers’ stories from World War II. One had been a crewman on B-17s and the other a Marine. They made model airplanes with my younger brother and me, which we invariably destroyed. They took us to air shows. They planted a seed of
interest in that black-and-white era of theirs. I was transfixed. I read every book about WWII that I could get my hands on. I knew that the “Greatest Generation” were the good guys, knights dispatching evil on a worldwide crusade. Their enemies were the black knights, the Germans and the Japanese. They were universally evil and beyond redemption. For being a complex war, it seemed very simple.
On a rainy day my life changed a little. I was fifteen and living in rural Pennsylvania. My siblings, best friend, and I were bored, so we decided to become journalists. That day we started a newsletter on my parents’ computer, writing about our favorite thing—World War II aviation. We printed our publication on an inkjet printer. It was three pages long and had a circulation of a dozen readers.
A year later, my life changed a lot. It was the summer after my freshman year in high school when my neighbor, classmates, and teacher were killed. A great tragedy struck our small town of Montoursville called “TWA Flight 800.” Sixteen of my schoolmates and my favorite teacher were traveling to France aboard a 747 jetliner. They were all members of the school French Club. Their plane exploded, midair, off the coast of Long Island.
I had planned to be with them. I had initially signed up for the trip but faced a tough choice. My Mom had sold enough Pampered Chef products in her part-time job to earn a vacation for our family to Disney World. The only catch was that the Disney trip was the same week as the school trip to France. I chose Disney with my family. I was in Disney when the
newspaper appeared on the floor outside our hotel room to announce the crash, 230 deaths, and the first reference to a shattered small Pennsylvania town. When I returned home, my parents’ answering machine was full of condolences. In their haste to identify who had gone with the French Club, someone had posted the roster of the students who had initially signed up for the trip to France, and my name was there.
The funerals were tragic. When school resumed, my neighbor Monica was missing from the bus stop. Jessica always boarded the bus
before us, but she was gone. My best friend among any and all girls, Claire, no longer sat next to me in class. And Mrs. Dickey no longer led the lessons. She was a great lady, a lot like Paula Dean, the jovial Southern TV chef. When we picked our adopted French names that we would be called during class hours, I had picked “Fabio.” It wasn’t even French. But it was funny and Mrs. Dickey let me keep it. That’s the kind of lady she was.
Flight 800 taught me that life is precious because it is fragile. I can’t say I woke up one day and started living passionately and working faster to make some impact on the world. It never happens in an instant. But looking back, I see that it happened gradually. By the end of high school, my siblings, friend, and I had turned our hand-stapled newsletter into a neatly bound magazine with a circulation of seven thousand copies. While our friends were at football games and parties, we were out interviewing WWII veterans.