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.
"A Higher Call," a new book by Adam Makos, tells this story and more—it explores the mysteries—how did the German pilot become the kind of man who would spare a bomber? What other harrowing missions did the American pilot fly? How did each man change after seeing his enemy's eyes?
"A Higher Call" is mostly the story of Franz Stigler, an ace WWII German fighter pilot who came upon a heavily damaged and helpless American B-17 bomber struggling to return to England. Stigler could have easily shot down the bomber and it's crew, but instead he escorted them past an anti-aircraft battery and flew along side them for a while out over the North Sea. Stigler knew he would be court-martialed if anyone found out what he had done. For years he wondered if the bomber had made it home safely and he wondered, "Was it worth it?". It took 46 years for Stigler to find out that the bomber did return home safely and to finally meet the American bomber pilot, Charlie Brown.
Author Adam Makos provides all the descriptions of battle, dog-fighting and heroism you would expect in a book of this nature but he really focuses on the human side, on the losses. Character after character are introduced only to die. The story of one young German flier is heartbreaking. In the last days of the war he told Stigler that he was going to return home, surrender and that he hoped to study engineering. Stigler asked if he wanted to take just one flight in an Me-262, the world's first operational jet fighter. The boy said yes. Since American bombing had stopped two days before, Stigler thought it would be a safe, quick flight, but the jet's engines cut out and the plane went down. Stigler raced to the crash sight and was able to arrive in time for the boy to ask Stigler to say goodbye to his mother and sister for him. The boy died in Stigler's arms. So many wasted lives.
While the description of Stigler escorting the bomber to safety is moving, the scene that meant the most to me was at a veterans reunion where Charlie Brown introduced Stigler to two of the crewmen who had been onboard the bomber that Stigler spared. As the four men hugged and cried they were joined by the descendants of the American fliers -- people who owed their lives to the act of generosity and kindness shown by Franz Stigler. Stigler and Brown remained close friends until their deaths, both in 2008.
It took 46 years for Stigler to get an answer to the question that had haunted him for so long. Yes, it was worth it. (Review by Karen Sullivan - Amazon).