Do You Think You Could Spare These Pilots The Way This Man Did?
BY DAN DOYLE
PART I: PRELUDE
Since the beginning of civilization itself, there has been among those who have gone to war, an unspoken, unwritten code. This code has often been recognized in the annals of war. It is called, the “Warrior Code.” The great irony of this code is that it is designed to protect the victor and the vanquished. It prevents those who are called upon to fight wars from becoming monsters.
Those who have lived by this code have come to realize that there is something worse than death…and that is to lose one’s humanity. In our natural hatred of war we often paint the warriors who are sent off to fight our wars in a dark fashion that no long reflects that code. Vietnam veterans know what that is like intimately. The following story is an example of both the Warrior’s Code and the strange bond that sometimes happens between warriors who were once blood enemies.
THE WARRIOR’S CODE
On December 20, 1943, Charles Brown was a 21 year old B17 pilot flying his first combat mission. His plane had been shot to pieces by German fighters. Half of his crew were dead or wounded. It was a miracle that the plane was still flying. Suddenly, to pilot Charlie Brown and his copilot’s horror, a German fighter flew up alongside the B17, piloted by 2nd Lt. Franz Stigler, an Ace, needing one more kill to receive the Knight’s Cross. Stigler had lifted off that day in pursuit of revenge for his brother, another pilot, lost to the Americans. but he but was struck by the fact that none of the B17’s guns were firing at him.
He pulled alongside and could see through the skin of the B17. He saw that every one of its guns were inoperable. Crew members were tending their wounded colleagues. He pulled ahead and looked over at the pilot of the B17. Stigler could see the shock and horror in Charlie Brown’s eyes. At that moment, by the strength of his own faith and conscience, he honored the Warrior’s Code. He flew in formation with the big B17 until they were over the North Sea. Then he looked at the pilot of the bomber, nodded, saluted, and peeled off to head back to Germany.
What makes this a real act of moral courage, in accord with the Warrior’s Code, was that Franz Stigler could have been executed for this action. Why did he do it? Stigler says that at that moment when he looked into the B17 pilot’s eyes, he remembered his flight commander’s earlier words to him: “You follow the rules of war (the Warrior Code) for you, not your enemy. You fight by the rules to keep your humanity.”
(Ed. note: There is more to this story and you can find it on Doyle’s blog at: http://blog.theveteranssite.com/ brown-stigler/)