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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Compassion In The Midst Of Chaos

Look carefully at the B-17 and note how severely shot up it is. With one engine dead, tail, horizontal stabilizer and nose shot up, it was ready to fall out of the sky. Now note that there is a fully armed German ME-109 fighter flying next to it in the photo. Read the story below. I think you’ll be surprised....
Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton ,England. On this terrible mission his B-17 was called ‘Ye Old Pub’ and was in a miserable condition, having been hit repeatedly by both flak and gunfire from German fighters. Their compass was disabled and they were mistakenly flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.
After being observed while flying over an enemy airfield, a German pilot named Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the struggling B-17. When the German pilot got near the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he ‘had never seen a plane in such a bad state and still flying’.
The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was dead and all over the top of the fuselage! The nose and windshield was smashed and there were holes throughout the airframe.
Despite having ammunition and orders to shoot the plane down, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked directly at Charlie Brown, the desperate B-17 pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.
Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz then escorted and guided the stricken plane to, and slightly over, the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to his home field.
When Franz landed he told the CO that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the surviving members of his crew told of the German pilot’s compassion at their post mission briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.
More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved his crew. After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.
They finally met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 25 people who are alive now - all because Franz never fired his guns that day.
Research shows that Charlie Brown lived in Seattle and Franz Steigler had moved to Vancouver, BC after the war. When they finally met, they discovered they had lived less than 200 miles apart for the past 50 years!
(Editor’s note: We at the Jackson County Times felt this story of war, bravery, and compassion would be appropriate for this 4th of July issue.)

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