Charlie Brown Meets the Luftwaffe Pilot

The title of this post sounds like an Oktoberfest cartoon. Not even close. I didn’t have to hunt for the obituaries today, the Miami Herald had the good sense to place Charlie Brown’s obituary– written by Charles Rabin–on the front page.

Here’s why:

At the break of dawn five days before Christmas 1943, Brown was piloting a B-17 bomber over Bremen, Germany, looking to strike an aircraft plant. The plane took heavy fire. Its nose was shot off, its engines damaged.

Spiraling toward earth with a dead tail gunner and nine other crew members, Brown — himself shot in the shoulder — regained control of the craft, broke formation and continued to take on German fighters.

Then a German pilot, flying a Messerschmitt Bf-109, motioned for Brown to land his crippled plane. Brown defied the order, shaking his head.

What happened next was unexpected: Instead of shooting down the bomber, the German pilot escorted Brown and his crew to the North Sea, saluted, rolled his plane in tribute and flew off.

Brown’s plane landed safely on the English coast.

The Allies never revealed the German pilot’s act, figuring he would be court-martialed and perhaps executed for failing to shoot down an enemy aircraft.

For decades, Brown wondered about the German pilot — through his post-war marriage to Delores, the birth of his two daughters in the 1950s, and well past his stint with the State Department during the Vietnam War.


As the picture to the right shows, it was not the last time they met. Read the rest of Rabin’s article at the end of the post. Statistics show that 9 out of the 10 people who won’t click through to read the entire obituary are Democrats. But the sample size is so small, it probably wasn’t worth mentioning–aside from it being a rather delicious cheap-shot. More about the story here.

———————————————————————————
WWII hero dies, but a remarkable story lives on

BY CHARLES RABIN

When World War II bomber pilot Charlie Brown is laid to rest Saturday, his burial will close a chapter on one of the most remarkable war stories in modern history.

It’s a tale of two pilots — one American, the other German — and of a bloody, deadly battle in the sky that led to an extraordinary friendship.

Brown, a fighter pilot, scientist, engineer and happy-hour connoisseur, died last month of heart complications. Born into poverty in West Virginia and a Miamian since the early 1970s, Brown will be buried Saturday at Woodlawn Park Cemetery South. He was 86.

His family and friends remember him as outgoing, gregarious, a man who invented a car part that allowed for greatly enhanced mileage, a loving father, a great friend.

”He was perpetually interested in the natural world, and what made it tick,” said friend Jim Brodie, director of legislative and cabinet affairs for the state Department of Veteran Affairs.

Brown’s story, and his enduring friendship with a German flying ace, is of fairy-tale caliber. It has been told before. It bears retelling.

At the break of dawn five days before Christmas 1943, Brown was piloting a B-17 bomber over Bremen, Germany, looking to strike an aircraft plant. The plane took heavy fire. Its nose was shot off, its engines damaged.

Spiraling toward earth with a dead tail gunner and nine other crew members, Brown — himself shot in the shoulder — regained control of the craft, broke formation and continued to take on German fighters.

Then a German pilot, flying a Messerschmitt Bf-109, motioned for Brown to land his crippled plane. Brown defied the order, shaking his head.

What happened next was unexpected: Instead of shooting down the bomber, the German pilot escorted Brown and his crew to the North Sea, saluted, rolled his plane in tribute and flew off.

Brown’s plane landed safely on the English coast.

The Allies never revealed the German pilot’s act, figuring he would be court-martialed and perhaps executed for failing to shoot down an enemy aircraft.

For decades, Brown wondered about the German pilot — through his post-war marriage to Delores, the birth of his two daughters in the 1950s, and well past his stint with the State Department during the Vietnam War.

Brown retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel in the early 1970s. Then he moved to Miami, where he spent the next three decades toying around with combustible engines and inventing things like the ”Brown Air Charging System” — a device Brodie swears Brown attached to his car to get better gas mileage.

With free time at hand, Brown began a search for the German pilot who spared his life. Not long after a 1986 story of the incident ran in a German newsletter, Brown found Franz Stigler, a German World War II ace living in Surrey, British Columbia, and still flying a Messerschmitt at air shows.

The two met, compared notes and realized Stigler was the pilot. Stigler later said he didn’t shoot down the plane because it was so badly damaged it would have been like shooting at a parachute.

Stigler, who died in March, was a legend of the sky. Along with his 487 flights and 28 kills, he was shot down 17 times. From 1990 until Stigler’s death earlier this year, he and Brown and their wives were exceptional friends, visiting each other at least twice a year.

”Charlie called him his big brother, and that about sums it up,” said Stigler’s 77-year-old widow, Helga Stigler.

She said her husband had often wondered what happened to the American plane he escorted to sea — a secret he kept from everyone but her.

Brodie, the Veteran Affairs liaison, met Brown in 1995 after persuading him to tell his story to a South Miami-Dade Rotary Club. Brown took Stigler with him.

”There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Brodie said.

In 2007, Brown and his crew received what had been long overdue: recognition. His story was told on the floor of Florida’s House of Representatives. Soon after, the Air Force opened its archives on the incident.

In February, the Air Force awarded Brown and the surviving crew members on that December 1943 flight Silver Stars for valor in combat. Brown also received the Air Force’s second-highest honor, the Air Force Cross.

In March, Brown’s wife of 58 years, Delores, died. Brown succumbed to heart disease not long after, two days before Thanksgiving.

”He wasn’t really the type to give up. But he was lost without her,” said daughter Kimberly.

Brown will be buried with full military honors Saturday. He is survived by daughters Carol Dawn Warner and Kimberly Arnstiger, and three grandchildren.
————————————————————————–

About these ads

About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
This entry was posted in RIP and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Charlie Brown Meets the Luftwaffe Pilot

  1. Billie Jo Walsh says:

    I don’t know who wrote the above article, the first of the two, but I did note the “cheap shot” about Democrats not reading the whole thing–just a sad statement. I’m a Democrat and read the whole thing and my father was a Democrat who served in the Pacific. Why you would even link party politics to a wonderful story is beyond me. Yes, it was a cheap shot, and unworthy of the many men and women, no matter what their politics, who served then and today…not to mention the ordinary people who do read entire articles without political prejudice.

  2. Billie Jo – I meant all other Democrats … kidding.

    I assumed that self-labeling it a cheap shot would have taken most of the sting out of the line, but since it didn’t in your case, my apologies.

    There is a more serious point buried in the joke about which of the 2 parties attracts people who are more patriotic. But even if I believe that, which I do, it obviously does not mean that the ‘other side’ does not also have patriotic members. Just not enough of them, from my perspective, which is the perspective I tend to feature in my blog.

    Thanks for taking the time to drop me a note Bille Jo.

  3. Kay Grace says:

    I just finished reading A Higher Calling, the book about Brown and Stigler. It is a wonderful book, but I’m sure not many Republicans would read a full length publication. By the way, every Democrat I know, myself included, is extremely patriotic!!

  4. Dear Ms Grace

    You may be right about Republicans being unable to complete longer tracts, but that won’t stop us from purchasing the book.

    If every Democrat you know is [extremely? … doth protests …] patriotic, it clearly means you are swimming at the edge of your party’s demographic bell curve. However, since I am unwilling to do what is necessary to win this argument–introduce you to more Democrats–I hereby accept a defeat in this matter rooted in charity and chivalry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s