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Awesome World War Two Chistmas Story...

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Warning, this one requires tissues nearby, even for tough guys...




"You follow the rules for
, not for the enemy. You fight by the rules to keep your humanity. If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you down myself."

- Luftwaffe fighter Ace Lt. Gustav Rödel, to rookie fighter pilot Franz Stigler before his first combat mission.

CharlieBrown_zps24ab9e0b.jpg It was December 20, 1943, seventy years ago today.

A rookie American B-17F bomber pilot on his first mission, 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown (left), found himself alone in the skies over Germany, struggling to keep his big four-engine bomber aloft. Only one of the engines was fully functional. The others were either stopped or barely generating power. They had been part of a raid on a German aircraft factory. Of his ten crew members, there were only three who had not been wounded. Brown himself was wounded by shrapnel, and had passed out from hypoxia, regaining consciousness as they got to a lower altitude. The tail gunner, S/Sgt. Hugh Eckenrode, was dead. Charlie Brown's B-17 was riddled with holes from anti-aircraft fire and bullet holes from an attack by German fighters. Blood was smeared on the outside of the big bomber from badly wounded crew members. With all the damage and partial power from the engines, Brown was unable to maintain airspeed and altitude. All the holes and bent sheet metal created tremendous drag.

As his crippled B-17F lost altitude and airspeed, Charlie Brown dropped out of formation, becoming a straggler. He was a sitting duck for any German fighter who might come up after them. His heart sank when he realized his flight path was taking him directly over a Luftwaffe fighter base.

FranzStigler_zps2a46780c.jpg Standing by his plane on the ground as it was being fueled and serviced, Franz Stigler (left), one of Germany's top aces, saw the B-17F go over. He had already flown combat missions that day, shooting down two B-17 bombers. One more aerial victory would win him the coveted Knight's Cross, the highest award a Luftwaffe pilot could earn. He saluted his crew chief, climbed in the Messerschmitt, and took off in pursuit of the low flying B-17.

Within a few moments, the fast fighter closed in on the tail of the B-17, which had the name Ye Olde Pub painted on the nose.

The Luftwaffe ace was horrified by what he saw lumbering through the air ahead of him. He had never seen an airplane in that condition before, and wondered how it managed to continue flying.



As he pulled in behind the bomber, Franz Stigler could see the tail guns hanging limp, the gunner in his tiny cabin slumped over, covered with blood. He also saw the ball turret gunner was unable to shoot at him either. Stigler pulled in close to the bomber, amazed it was still flying. The entire top half of the rudder was gone. All of the left horizontal stabilizer was missing. There was a huge hole in one wing, and one engine was not turning, the prop feathered. The plane was riddled with holes. Stigler was amazed the plane was even holding together, much less flying. He knew any airplane with that much battle damage would have wounded on board.

A devoutly religious man, Stigler never flew without his rosary beads. By this time, he had worn the finish off the beads. Stigler could hear Rödel's words in his mind's ear: "You follow the rules for you, not for the enemy. You fight by the rules to keep your humanity."

By this time, the fighter pilot realized the guns on the bomber were silent, so he confidently pulled up alongside the cockpit of the B-17, motioning for them to land. Charlie Brown would not comply with Stigler's hand signals to land. Stigler realized Brown was too stubborn to land, but also realized he was on the wrong heading to get back to England. Stigler frantically pointed north, trying to get Brown to head to neutral Sweden, where he realized they would get first class medical help and would sit out the rest of the war in the neutral country. Brown plowed on to the west, headed toward England. Stigler flew first on one side and then the other of the crippled bomber. The more he saw of the damage to the bomber, his amazement grew. He flew over a flak battery in close formation with them, knowing the antiaircraft gunners would be unable to fire with the Bf-109 in close formation with the bomber.

Stigler also knew that if his plane was identified and reported, he would be court martialed and probably shot by the Gestapo. His rosary beads got quite a workout that day. As the bomber passed over the coast, Stigler snapped a crisp salute to the wide-eyed Brown and his crew, waved and peeled off for his home field.


When he got back, he told his commander the bomber had gone down in the channel. Since that was unconfirmed, Stigler did not get credit for 'shooting down' a third bomber that December 20.


When Charlie Brown and his crew was debriefed after landing back in England, they were ordered not to tell the story of the chivalrous German pilot. The military brass felt a story a chivalrous act by a German pilot would not be good for war morale. Unwittingly, that order may have also saved Stigler from the Gestapo, who would have executed him if they found out what he had (not) done.


Charlie Brown went on to fly 29 combat missions with the famed 379th Bomb Group. After completing more than the required 25 missions, he was assigned non-combat status, delivering airplanes, flying cargo, and giving flight instruction. He stayed in the Air Force, finally retiring as a Lt. Colonel in 1972. He also worked for the State Department. After leaving government service, Brown became a businessman, entrepreneur and inventor.


Franz Stigler went on to score several more "kills" after that December 20 encounter, but never again allowed a symbol of an aerial victory to be painted on the tail of his plane.

Franz flew 487 combat missions. He was shot down seventeen times and wounded four times. He bailed out six times and rode his damaged aircraft down eleven times. However, he never lost his love of flying. A Bavarian, he had learned to fly at the age of 12 in a glider and soloed in an open cockpit biplane in 1933. He had been a Lufthansa airline pilot when the war started. He was conscripted into the Luftwaffe as an already trained high-time pilot. After the war, he found himself standing in welfare lines. Never a member of the Nazi party, he was able to emigrate to Canada in 1953. He settled in the Vancouver, BC area, becoming a successful businessman.


More than forty years elapsed. Charlie Brown started looking for the man who had spared their lives that day. Finally, in 1990, they found each other. Charlie was convinced he had the right man on the phone when Stigler gave the correct response to Charlie's question, "What were you pointing at?" Stigler told Brown he was trying to get them to head for Sweden. Both men were amazed to learn they had been living only 200 miles from each other for decades, and their biggest regret was they were now old men who had missed out on decades of comradeship.

Their first meeting since December 20, 1943 was arranged, and film crews were there to record the event for posterity. The following video clip is of that first meeting in 1990.

Although Franz Stigler had many military decorations as a fighter pilot, his most unique awards came from his former combat enemies. He was presented with the "Order of the Star of Peace" by the Federation of Combattant Allies En Europe for his act of compassion on December 20, 1943. He is the only Luftwaffe pilot to be so recognized. Franz was also elected to become an honorary member of the 379th Bomb Group Association, attending several reunions as an honored guest.

At one such reunion of old aviators near Boston, both men got to examine a B-17 for the first time in decades. That reunion of men and plane was the subject of a television story:

Here is a photograph of the crew of Ye Olde Pub:


Back row, standing left to right: S/Sgt. Bertrand "Frenchy" Coulombe (engineer/ top turret gunner), Sgt. Alex Yelesanko (left waist gunner), Sgt. Richard Pechout (radio operator), Sgt. Lloyd Jennings (right waist gunner), S/Sgt. Hugh Eckenrode (tail gunner), and Sgt. Sam Blackford (ball turret gunner)

Front row, left to right: 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown (pilot), 2nd Lt. Spencer Luke (co-pilot), 2nd Lt. Al Sadok (navigator), and Robert Andrews (bombardier)

SgtHughEckenrode_zps5009563f.jpg Staff Sergeant Hugh Eckenrode (left) was the only man killed on that mission, and was the first crewman Stigler saw slumped over his guns. He was awarded the Silver Star posthumously, in addition to his purple heart.

S/Sgt. Eckenrode's remains were returned to the US, and he is buried in the Centerville Memorial Park, Newville, Pennsylvania

In all, this crew was awarded an uncommon number of awards for bravery. Charlie Brown received the Air Force Cross, the highest award the Air Force can give, short of the Medal of Honor.

Franz Stigler died on March 22, 2008 at the age of 92. His obituary lists his immediate family who survived him, and at the end lists, "...special brother Charlie Brown"

Charlie Brown died eight months later, on November 24, 2008 at the age of 86. He is buried in Woodlawn Park Cemetery South, Miami, Florida.

AHigherCall-book_zps31f61c44.jpgTheir story has been memorialized in a book by Adam Makos, in collaboration with co-author Larry Alexander.

A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II is a worthwhile read, and is available both online and in bookstores





Actual photo of "Ye Olde Pub"



Edited by Dr. Mark
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Great book, well worth the read. In a few more years, this whole generation will be gone, very sad. My 96 yo dad, was a member of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Met my Mom in London, on a blind date. They were married for 65 years. Some of their friends were real characters......they lived life to the fullest. Rest in Peace.


Thanks for posting.



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An amazing story and from an amazing generation. My initial IP was a P-51 Ace, his stories could fill a book and their were thousands like him on all sides.


I used to fly airshows for the Confederate Air Force (now Commemorative Air Force due to some jack ass taking offense,) I flew a C-47 (DC-3) into an air show in central IL, ( if I re call Chanute air base?). I secured the aircraft and was walking around placing gust locks on the controls and notice a gentleman pushing an older gentleman in a wheelchair around the aircraft. The gentleman in the chair was pointing to parts of the aircraft with a cane. I walked up and asked if I could answer any questions for them. The guy in the chair said "I used to fly this bird" I replied "then I can learn from you."


Turns out he flew C-47's dropping troops during the war and actually flew the assault on D-Day, taking hits from the German AAA on shore. I asked if he would like to get in the cockpit, he looked up, I could see the twinkle in his eye. He replied, "son its been a long time since I was in one and I don't think my old body could make it" I looked at his son and and said "if you want to go, we'll get you there". His son nodded and I round up some help and lifted him out of his chair and into the door of the aircraft, The Gooney is a tail dragger and it;s about 55 feet up a steep incline from the tail wheel to the nose.


We got him up there and placed him in the pilots seat, I looked down at his knarled and crippled hands touching the controls. The look in his eyes and the grit on his expression, for a minute his old and tattered body was 21 again. Then I saw the tears start to stream down his cheek and I said "sir, you take all the time you want, I will be right below outside, just call when you're ready. We left the aircraft and left him to his thoughts and memories.


Speaking with his son we informed us that he was dying of bone cancer and this was the first time he was out of the wheelchair sometime. After about 20 mins I heard him tap his hand out the cockpit window and say, "Son, I'm ready, its hot up here". We went up and gently lifted him back down and placed him in his chair, I asked him to sign my log book and thanked him for everything. He seemed a bit embarrassed about the tears still welling in his old but still steely eyes. I gave him a C-47 cap and watched his son wheel him away.


Its sad that many don't look upon these old warriors as the ones that saved the world all those years ago. All of them I spent time with simple say they were doing their job. We are losing them a fast pace now days, if you have the chance to spend time with them, do it. They still have a look in their eyes that they did when they rolled into a flight of BF-109's or rushed a machine gun nest at Bastonne.


May God Bless them

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The greatest man I have ever known was my uncle, Earl Rich. He was just a simple infantry man, Buck Sgt. in the 69th Infantry. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and never, not once, thought anything more than "I was just following orders, I was doing what anyone else would have done". But the reality of it is completely the opposite, he did the extraordinary, he was the epitome of the Greatest Generation. He is and always will be the greatest man I have ever known!!!! I can only hope that I am half the man he was......... thanks for letting me write what I have felt for so long..............

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Awesome stories !! Very likely there will never be another generation of men in this country who sacrificed so willingly for their country. Like others here have said, take time to listen to their stories, they are leaving us rapidly and that history is gone forever. We OWE them all that respect. Those men are what made this the greatest country on planet Earth. We all should take lessons from any of them

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Another amazing story. Kind of makes me feel bad complaining about parts falling off an Indian, kinda.




Posted by Mark W. Danielson
This is not an article I wrote, but rather one I felt was worth sharing. As a kid, I never missed an episode of Twelve O’Clock High – the World War II series based upon the B-17 movie of the same name. I loved the Flying Fortress, and frequently flipped through the pages of my book of the same name. In this book, I remember seeing an amazing photo of this B-17 that was torn in half by a German fighter, but I never knew the full story until this article was passed on to me. I cleaned it up slightly, but full credit goes to the unknown crewmember that wrote the article. I hope you find it equally fascinating. I salute every airman of WWII.
* * * * *
A mid-air collision on February 1, 1943, between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area resulted in one of the most famous photographs of World War II. It was there that an enemy fighter attacking a 97th Bomb Group formation went out of control, probably with a wounded pilot, and crashed into the rear of the fuselage of a Fortress named All American, piloted by Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg of the 414th Bomb Squadron. When it struck, the fighter broke apart, but left some pieces in the B-17. The left horizontal stabilizer of the Fortress and left elevator were completely torn away. The two right engines were out and one on the left had a serious oil pump leak. The vertical fin and rudder had both been damaged, the fuselage, which had nearly been cut completely through, was connected only at two small parts of the airframe. The radios, electrical and oxygen systems were also damaged. The hole in the top of the fuselage stretched 16 feet to the top gunner’s turret, and was four feet wide at one point.
Although the tail bounced and swayed and the fuselage twisted when the plane turned, it miraculously flew on only one surviving elevator cable. The tail gunner remained at his station as there was no floor to get back to the main fuselage. While the plane lumbered on, the waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses to lash the tail and fuselage halves together while the pilots coaxed All American to her target.
When the bomb bay doors opened, the inside wind force was so great it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. In several heart-stopping minutes, four crew members were able to pass parachute ropes to him and haul him forward. When they tried doing the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping hard. Figuring that the gunner’s weight was adding stability, he quickly returned to his position.
B-17+4.jpgBecause their one hundred eighty degree turn had to be very gentle, they covered almost 70 miles before they were heading home. Even worse, their B-17 was so badly damaged that it kept losing altitude and speed. Soon, they were alone and easy prey for two more Me-109s. Refusing to go down without a fight, All American’s crew responded with guns blazing, the waist gunners with their heads through the hole in the fuselage, and the tail gunner’s recoil turning the airplane. Thankfully, the fighters retreated without instilling further damage.
Allied P-51 fighters intercepted All American as she crossed the English Channel, snapped this inflight photo, and then radioed to base that the bomber’s empennage was waving like a fish tail, that the plane would not make it back, and to send rescue boats to retrieve the crew when they bailed out. But Lt. Bragg quickly signaled that bailing out was not as option as they had used six parachutes to keep the plane together. Earlier, the crew decided that if they could not all bail out safely, then they would stay with the plane and attempt a landing. The Mustang pilots could only watch in amazement.
Two and a half hours after her mid-air, All American made her final turn to line up with the runway that was still 40 miles away. Remarkably, she held together and rolled out on her landing gear. When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not one crewmember had been injured. As people swarmed around the aircraft, no one could believe All American made it home. She could have given up, but instead sat placidly while the crew exited through the fuselage door and the tail gunner climbed down a ladder. Soon after, her aft section collapsed as if she knew she had done her job.
All American crew: Pilot- Ken Bragg Jr., Copilot- G. Boyd Jr., Navigator- Harry C. Nuessle, Bombardier- Ralph Burbridge, Engineer- Joe C. James, Radio Operator- Paul A. Galloway, Ball Turret Gunner- Elton Conda, Waist Gunner- Michael Zuk, Tail Gunner- Sam T. Sarpolus, Ground Crew Chief- Hank Hyland

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The B-17 and the UH-1 Iriquois "Huey" helicopter were probably two of the toughest aircraft ever built. Plenty of stories of them being all shot up and still making it home where other aircraft would've fallen from the sky.

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