“The One I Didn’t Shoot Down!”

The New York Post tells the remarkable story of World War II American bomber pilot Charlie Brown and German Luftwaffe ace Franz Stigler, who instead of shooting down Brown’s crippled plane, flew alongside it and saluted. The story comes from the new book “A Higher Call,” by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander.

In December 1943, in the skies over Germany, Stigler was in pursuit of Brown’s plane, looking to shoot it down. If he did, it would be his 23rd victory, good enough to earn him the Knight’s Cross, the highest honor for a German soldier in World War II.

But as he approached the plane, Stigler saw that it had no tail guns blinking, no tail-gun compartment remaining, and no left stabilizer. Moving closer, he noticed that the nose of the aircraft was missing. And he could see into the plane, the skin of it having been blown off. Inside, he observed terrified young men tending to their wounded.

Stigler could not shoot the plane down. He had been trained that “honor is everything.” If he surived the war, his superior officer told him, the only way he would be able to live with himself was if he had fought with as much humanity as possible.

Stigler could tell that Brown didn’t realize how bad a shape his plane was in. He gestured for Brown to land the plane, intending to escort him. But Brown shook his head. The American had no intention of landing in Germany and being taken prisoner along with his men.

Stigler then yelled “Sweden,” meaning that Brown should land his plane there. But Brown didn’t know what Stigler was yelling. Terrified, Brown ordered his gunner to get in the turret and take aim. At that point, Stigler saluted Brown and veered away. His last words to him were, “Good luck, you’re in God’s hands now.”

Brown somehow was able to land the plane in England. He continued his Air Force career for two decades, but remained obsessed with the incident.

Finally, in 1990, he took out an ad in a newsletter for fighter pilots, looking for the one “who saved my life on Dec. 20, 1943.” He held back key information to screen fraudulent responses.

Stigler, now living in Vancouver, saw the ad and yelled to his wife: “This is him! This is the one I didn’t shoot down!” He immediately wrote a letter to Brown, and the two then connected in an emotional phone call.

Stigler and Brown both died in 2008, six months apart. In their obituaries, each was listed as “a special brother” to the other.<<

About russtowne

I'm awed by the beauty of nature and the power of love and gratitude. Some of my favorite sensory experiences include waves crashing on rocky shores, waterways in ancient redwood and fern-filled forests, and rain. My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 5 grandchildren. I manage a wealth management firm that I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of approximately 60 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children.
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15 Responses to “The One I Didn’t Shoot Down!”

  1. Cathy Ulrich says:

    What a wonderful story, Russ.

  2. It was a lovely story….My oldest brother was also a navigator for a bomber in WW2 so I thought of him as I read your story…He just passed away last year…Diane.

  3. jiltaroo says:

    Humanity shines in the worst of possible times. Lovely story Russ. Jen

  4. sharechair says:

    I have read that story before, and it brings tears to my eyes every time. Wonderful, isn’t it? 🙂

  5. Thanks for the book info. I’m gonna get it for the capt.

    • russtowne says:

      I hope he enjoys it. I recently listened to an audiobook called “Unbroken” about an Olympic athlete and what happened to him when his plane got shot down in the Pacific, etc. It is a true story and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read or heard about.


  6. What an amazing story, Russ. Gave me a big lump in my throat. I’m forwarding this to my father-in-law, who flew in WWII as well. I, too, have read ‘Unbroken’ and *highly* recommend it–an AMAZING story and a primo example of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. Hillenbrand’s first book, “Seabiscuit,” is another incredible read. Best, Lori

  7. Andrea Kelly says:

    I LOVE this story! Thank you so much for sharing it.

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