A few weeks ago Thomas K4SWL emailed me a book recommendation and I’m so glad that I followed through with an order from Amazon.
The book arrived and I couldn’t put the darn thing down. It was far better than I’d hoped and was compelling on many different levels.
The gist of the story is this:
“Five days before Christmas 1943, a helpless, shot-all-to-hell American bomber pilot locked eyes with a German fighter pilot in an Me-109 over the frozen skies of Europe. The German pilot spared the life of the American, and both men would reunite and become friends 50 years later. Franz Stigler and Charles Brown started the war as enemies, but during a tense wartime encounter, both men discovered a higher call.”
The phrase “higher call” might seem to have a religious connotation but that is not the case here. It simply refers to the component of chivalry shown by the German pilot and the values with which he was raised.
By the first two chapters it was clear that the book is far more than what its brief description would indicate.
A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II devotes about 65% of its pages to Franz Stigler’s path through life up to, during and after the war. His experiences learning to fly gliders as a young boy, his military career as a multiple Ace (and later as an Me-262 jet pilot) and the values and upbringing that led him to refrain from attacking Brown’s bomber crew are all recounted.
Stigler flew 480 missions, was shot down several times himself and was on the verge of being awarded the coveted Knight’s Cross. Shooting down Brown’s B-17 would have finalized his qualification, but he wouldn’t do it due to what he witnessed as he approached the stricken bomber – a dead tail gunner, an almost destroyed tail section and holes in the fuselage through which he could see crewmembers trying to save one of their mates from bleeding to death.
Some readers might be surprised at what the common German soldier or airman thought of the war and the regime that led them into it. Officers that later became peacetime heads of companies or very senior military officers in post-war Germany served with Franz as more junior officers during the war and their mindset is revealed in amusing, and often sad, anecdotes.
I was surprised to read of how Stigler was treated as a former fighter pilot by the civilian population in Germany’s post-war devastation. Living with his fiance’s family and unable to find meaningful work, he took a factory job making sewing machines – ironically, Messerschmitt sewing machines.
Years later he moved to Canada and proposed through the mail to a young woman he’d met briefly in Germany years before.
Meanwhile, Charles Brown was still having nightmares due to his experiences in the war. Both men are now old and each has wondered about the other for 50 years. I’ll leave it at that…read this book!
The story is well-told and includes letters exchanged between the two old foes prior to their meeting.
Don’t just take my recommendation – check out the Amazon reviews and ratings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another book so consistently highly rated among such a large number of readers.