"Terrorism has once again shown it is prepared deliberately to stop at nothing in creating human victims. An end must be put to this."

Vladimir Putin


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Good Book: A Higher Call



The last time I piloted an aircraft, it was a T41 that belonged to the Civil Air Patrol here. That was in 1995.  My medical certificate came up for renewal, I failed the depth perception part of it, and that was that.

Shortly thereafter, the Air Force took the airplane away, and I certainly couldn't afford to pay $100.00 an hour to rent one even if I could have flown it, so my flying days, which began 22 years earlier, were over. I still have my pilots "single engine land" certificate but it's a keep sake and that's about it.

But I'm still very interested in aviation. I have a lot of time to read, and over the years I've read autobiographies by some of the world's best pilots.  Primarily German, British , and American. Not many Japanese aces lived through the war, and I only know of one who wrote about his experiences, Saburo Sakai. If you've never read Samurai, and you are or were an aviator, you would enjoy it.


On December 21, 1943 an 8th Air Force B-17 piloted by Second Lieutenant Charles Brown was torn up by flak over Germany.   The aircraft was so seriously  damaged that the crew should have bailed out, but they had a man who was badly injured , and he couldn't be dropped out of the aircraft.  Trying to make it home, they were intercepted by Second Lieutenant Franz Stigler in his BF109G fighter.

It was the second combat mission for Brown and his crew.  Stigler was an ace, a survivor of the desert campaign in North Africa who would end the war flying in the worlds only operational jet squadron.


Stigler's BF109F  as flown in the Western Desert.




The bomber was helpless. It had one operational gun left, virtually the entire crew was wounded, and they had a 300 mile trip back to England, much of it over the North Sea. The aircraft was barely controllable and could not maintain altitude.

Instead of finishing off the bomber, Stigler first flew formation off the starboard side and tried to signal the pilots to land in Germany.  They wouldn't. He should have shot them down then, but he went over to the port side of the B-17 and tried to indicate they should fly to Sweden, much nearer than England, and be interned.

The pilots of the B-17 indicated they would not.  Stigler thought they were insane, but he also knew they were coming up on the coastal flak belt , and that at the low altitude and reduced air speed they were operating at, they would be obliterated.



For reasons he himself was not sure of, he tucked his fighter in on the B-17's wing. He knew that the flak crews would recognize the silhouette of his BF-109 and would not open fire. In not shooting down the bomber, he was committing an act of treason at a time when people were being shot in Germany for making jokes about the Nazi party.

Once the aircraft was out over the water, he returned to his airfield and sweated out the next few days, fearful that someone would have reported him. No one did.

The B-17 made it back to England.

45 years later, essentially through a series of coincidences,  Brown and Stigler met and became friends. Stigler was made an honorary member of the Bomb Group Association Brown was affiliated with. Stigler was living in Canada then, and when the story hit the press he got a lot of very ugly phone calls, from Canadians telling the "Nazi" to get out, and from Germans calling him a traitor.
He never regretted what he did though.

As I said, I've read a great many memoirs of World War 2 aviators, and I think this is one of the most honest I've seen. The book talks about things almost nobody else does, like people inflicting wounds on themselves to avoid combat,  people claiming victories they didn't actually earn. Lots of seamy things you know had to have happened but which are ordinarily passed over in silence.

2nd Lt. Charles Brown, USAAF Pilot of B-17





BF-109G Pilot Franz Stigler, German Luftwaffe



Stigler and Brown 45 years after the end of WW2







Just for my record, Jet died today.  I found him in his snuggy bag this morning. He apparently died in his sleep. Given that he had cancer, and only a few months to live from the time it was diagnosed, this was a good way to go out.  I don't think he suffered. The night before he was eating and walking around, and seemed to feel ok.  M and I buried him out with the others, up on the back of the meadow.


34 comments:

  1. Hey Harry, sorry about Jet...It is the worst thing about pets I think... Glad he didn't suffer.
    Seems to me I heard an interview on the radio some years back with these two men, and they told the whole story. Very cool, one of the many odd incidents that happen in war I suppose

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    1. I was really sorry to find him gone, but then, that's how I hope to go out myself with any luck at all. Just go to bed one night, safe and secure, and not wake up. With cancer, it could have been a lot worse I guess.

      Stigler's father had been a fighter pilot in World War One, and had drilled the idea of "fair play" into his son. Not a very appropriate sentiment for the 1939-1945 war I guess. I know I would have shot the B-17 down without a thought, they had just been bombing Germany. But Stigler was a Catholic, had experienced some very bad things that shook his belief in Germany's cause, and he was very conflicted. Torn between knowing that the Nazi's were evil, and fighting for his country and people. He fought right up until the end of the war though, to the bitter end.

      Some strange things do happen in wars. That's the God's Truth.

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  2. That's one great wartime story.
    I hope Stigler and Brown hoisted a few and swapped lies.
    Actually, I don't have to hope, I KNOW they did... :)

    A gentleman I went to church with was shot down in WW2 behind the lines. He and the surviving crew spent a couple of weeks getting back to our side, driving the last few miles in a stolen German truck.
    The greatest generation indeed.

    - Charlie

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    1. I used to know some old guys who fought in WW2. They are all gone now. My uncle, father, and father in law were all in that category.

      When History Channel has it's great two season series "Dog Fight" going, there were lots of interviews with these veterans. I remember one in particular about a Marine from Louisiana who flew in the battles over Guadalcanal. It's good that so many of them were interviewed and recorded. Primary sources are the best.

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    2. One of the projects we have going on the Iowa is to get as many WWII vets as we can to interview and record.

      I work with one guy who was on the USS Hoel, the first ship to be sunk at the Battle Off Samar, and I had him autograph my book "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors".

      He couldn't believe I wanted him to sign my book, and like ALL of the WWII vets I've met, my father included, he says "We were just doing our jobs.".

      Amazing guys.....

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    3. The World War II guys are getting thin on the ground. We still have a few here in our county, and they figure prominently in the fourth of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades. They usually ride on a float pulled by a farm tractor, or on a collectors World War II era vehicle. They get a great deal of respect, as do all veterans up here.

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  3. Sorry to hear one of your little buddies has left us. It's always hard to lose a pet, especially one you've had for a while.

    I've read this story before. They were truly "Men of Honor" back then.

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    1. The war in the West tended to be more civilized (though I guess not much, when you think about Dresden and Coventry), than the war in the East or the Pacific. I've only read one memoir from a pilot who fought on in the West who absolutely hated the enemy. That book was "Guinea Pig" by a British fighter pilot. He was badly burned when his Hurricane was shot down, and turned into a psychopath. The guy should never have been put back in the cockpit.

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  4. Hey Harry,

    I also heard many stories of chivalry in WW2. A great many coming from the Germans. I think it goes back to stories of 'knights fighting in armor' and of heroism and honor.

    I'm not saying every German was honorable but its the western and Christian cultural aspects of behavior that defines actions of individuals. Now on the other side of the coin there are non-western concepts like Islam that point to more barbaric actions in individuals.

    I think the German pilot that saved that B-17 realized thease guys were down for the count and had no fight left in them and it would be 'dishonorable' to shoot them down. Its like shooting an already wounded man who cant get up and fight. One other thought was if he (the German pilot) was in the same position with a 'shot up and heavily damaged aircraft' He would hope for help from anyone even his enemy.

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    1. I don't know what motivated the man. I do know that by then, he knew the war was lost, detested the Nazi government, and had already lost his brother, a JU-88 night fighter pilot.

      I guess it's just individual personality. The German Air Force in the West did take a "gentlemanly" attitude toward the war in the air. I have never read of a German pilot machine gunning a pilot in a parachute for instance (sadly, the Americans were the worst about that in the European theater in the West). The German fighters would allow shot up bombers to surrender and then escort them to a German airfield initially. The bomber was supposed to drop it's gear and lock all the weapons in fully elevated position. That came to a screeching halt when a B-17 recovered the use of two engines, and the gunners opened fire on the escorting BF-109's, shooting down two and killing the pilots.

      The crew got back to England but they were wildly unpopular, since what they did had a very negative impact on the other bomber crews.

      One German Ace flew a BF-109G with the side number 13. The bomber crews called him "Lucky 13" because once he had damaged a bomber, he invariably pulled off and gave the crew a chance to jump before finishing the aircraft off.

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  5. I am sorry to hear about Jet, but it was a blessing that he did not suffer at the end and that you gave him a good life.

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    1. I was really sorry to lose Jet, but we knew it was coming. He didn't suffer, was happy and safe right up to the end, and went out in his sleep, curled up in his favorite place.

      It's not like when Ragnar went, and I was down there at the vet thinking this was a routine visit and they would fix him up, and they said he was in terrible pain. That was very difficult.

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  6. Oh Harry, I am so sorry to hear about Jet. I know it is a great loss for you and that he will be so missed. I am thankful that he was able to live his final days with folks like you and your wife. He was well loved and I am sure that he realized that. Our pets take a piece of our hearts when they pass on, but I can't imagine living a life without them and the love that they give us. Jana

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    1. Jana, ferrets usually don't live very long in America. American ferrets get adrenal disease and cancer pretty frequently, and about 50 percent of them make it to the five year mark and die. In Europe, ferrets hardly ever get these diseases and live much longer. I have been told it's because , by law, ferrets are neutered at a very early age and this is the effect it has one them.

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  7. Fair and Heroic are words that rarely apply in their true meaning anymore, I am going to look up this book.
    I am sad about Jet but your right about going in his sleep. They are such characters.

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    1. I think the war in the air was "cleaner" than on the ground, if no less brutal.

      I had seven ferrets once. Now I am down to just one.

      :-(

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  8. Sorry for the loss of your little friend. They become part of our families and part of our hearts.

    Lately I've been reading about the return of prop planes in warefare. The made in Brazil Super Tucano is a good example. The prop planes are better at ground support and low intensity conflicts where you aren't going against another air force. Cheaper to operate and easier to maintain. Can also run out of primitive forward bases.



    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embraer_EMB_314_Super_Tucano

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    1. I loved flying the T-28, a world war II "wannabe" that was used as a fighter bomber all over the world, most notably by the French. I never really was that in love with flying helicopters. I got sent down that path because my basic training scores were not "fighter grade."

      I miss my ferrets. I hope I can get some more from a rescue up where my daughter lives, but the last two times she came home she didn't bring me any.

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  9. I just finished a fictional book, Alantis Found by Clive Clusser, that was very good. It had lots of details on planes and submarines. Lots of military details I did not know...of course I still don't know since it was fictional but assuming much was factual too.

    So sorry about Jet. We can all hope to sleep away peacefully in our sleep.

    Happy Father's Day.

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    1. That sounds like my kind of book. I love historical fiction. I have been going to the library in our county with my wife snce she retired, but our library is pathetic. We can build all sorts of things here with tax money, but don't seem to be able to give the library any money for decent books.

      That's how I hope I go. Not laying in some bed unconscious while the nursing staff makes fun of me because they think I can't hear them.

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  10. So sorry about Jet. I will have to add this book to my wish list. Not an aviator but it sounds like a good one.

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    1. It makes good reading, Randy. I think even if you aren't particularly interested in aviation, you will enjoy just the plain story.

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  11. thank God for men of honor, wherever they live or whatever times they are born into.

    sorry about Jet, but glad for him to have a peaceful death.
    very hard. buried 2 cats last month, one, the oldest, with cancer, the other with the sudden onset of incurable disease. much mourning, but they no longer suffer.

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    1. There are not so many as there once were, I think. The world we live in today doesn't seem to have rules anymore.

      It is always harder on those left behind.

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  12. G'day Harry,

    Sorry to hear about your little critter, it always hurts when a pet goes, I think because they are always so faithful to their owners and only ask for a bit of affection in return. I'm not ashamed to say that the wife & I both shed a tear when a Cockatiel hen (Nellie)that I rescued many years ago died, what made it worse was her mate (George) was beside himself as well.

    Maybe I need to try and send a Wombat over for you.

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    1. That's what I need, guy. A wombat would be great. Might have to stick to ferrets though, as I am sure our government has some law against keeping wombats. They have a law against everything else. ;-)

      Good to hear from you. I'm working on a post with the photos, and appreciate your letting me use them.

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  13. Sorry for your loss shipmate. RIP Jet.

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    1. He was a great guy. I miss him, but since he had cancer I am glad he went out in his sleep. We kept him pretty doped up the last part of his life, and I think he was ready to go.

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  14. Harry Thanks for the story, Its fascinating. Sorry to hear about Jet. I can see him running around with the others now in heaven.

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    1. If God cared enough about people to make a place for them after death, I'm sure he made a place for animals too.

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  15. I'm so sorry about Jet! That's too bad. It shouldn't have happened the day before Father's Day! :( I know he had cancer, but still.

    Happy Father's Day. I hope you get to talk to your not so little kids today. I have to remind my husband to call his parents. He's working outside in the 100 degree heat fixing something for my parents. They have a lazy susan that held their pots and pants that finally broke. It was over 40 years old. My husband can weld and grind, so he's the man to fix their lazy susan.

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    1. Thanks, Alissa. We knew it was coming. M didn't believe it when I told her he was dead though. We did like we always do, we fixed him up a nice sealed jar, with a soft cloth in it to lay on, and we put in some food, his favorite toy, his favorite "sparklies" and some coins.

      Thanks for the Happy Fathers Day. My kids gave me a call. I sure do miss them. I always thought they would live right here in the county and we would see them all the time. Didn't work out that way.

      Glad your husband is handy and can help fix things up for the folks. My son used to help me a whole lot, now I get by as best I can.

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  16. Dude, sorry to hear your friend passed. But pets live shorter lives than us, and it sounds like he went the best way....and he prevented you from having to make the decision for him.

    My thoughts will be with you.

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    1. B, you are right. I won't ever get over when the vet helped Ragnar pass on. I couldn't stay in there, and I went out in the parking lot and left him with strangers. It is the only time in my life I ever committed an act of outright craven cowardice. I wish I could take that day back and stay in there with him.

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