1943, Germany.
Franz Stigler wanted revenge. The World War 2 German ace pilot had lost his older brother to war. He was a kill away from the Knight's Cross, German's highest award for valor. Below his fighter plane, the damaged American bomber sputtered in the sky, an easy target. His hands were on the trigger as he gazed down at his enemy.

The gunner in the plane was dead. Men huddled within were tending to their wounded crewmen. The plane was defenseless and its barely-out-his-teens pilot sat at the cockpit, staring helplessly up at Franz, awaiting his doom. Stigler - who had once studied to be a priest and had killed plenty during the war - said a silent prayer. He then took his fingers off the trigger. Sparing a German enemy during war carried the risk of death. But for Franz, the words of his commanding officer resonated in his head.

"Follow the rules of war for you, not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity."

Franz Stigler could not bring himself to go against the warrior's code and murder an unarmed enemy. Instead, he nodded to the scared American pilot and then flew in formation beside him so that German anti-aircraft gunners would not shoot the crippled bomber plane. He escorted the pilot to safety, gave one last nod and then flew away.

The 21 year old pilot, Charles Brown would fly more missions before the war ended. He would get married, have children and eventually retire. But the memory of the German who let him live kept coming back to him and so Charles began searching for him, searching through archives, putting out ads and retelling his story to everyone in hopes of finding him.

In 1990, 47 years after the incident, Charles received a letter from Stigler. Retired and in Vancouver, he was happy to know that Charles had survived and done well in life and hoped to meet him the coming year when he arrived in Florida. Charles could not wait though, calling up directories in Vancouver till he got the number before breaking down and crying when he heard - for the first time - the voice of the man who chose to save him.


The two - and their families - did meet the coming year in Florida in a reunion filled with love and joy. They became best friends, going on fishing & road trips, flying cross country to meet each other and telling their stories at schools and veteran reunions.

Charles surprised Stigler by organizing a function where Stigler was the guest of honour, the guests consisting of all the surviving members of that plane and their families. There was not a dry eye as a video played, showing all the faces of the people now alive because of Stigler's single act - children, grandchildren et al.

Franz Stigler and Charles Brown died in 2008, barely months apart at the ages of 92 and 87. Enemies, then friends and finally, as author Makos (who chronicled their story in the book 'A Higher Call') found out, something more.

In a book Stigler gave to Brown before he died, he wrote the following inscription.

In 1940, I lost my only brother as a night fighter. On the 20th of December, 4 days before Christmas, I had the chance to save a B-17 from her destruction, a plane so badly damaged it was a wonder that she was still flying. The pilot, Charlie Brown, is for me, as precious as my brother was.
Thanks Charlie.
Your Brother,

The video is 11 minutes long and I know you are busy... but I hope you will come back and watch it later (at least the last 5 minutes) to listen to the late Franz & Charles speak from their hearts. 

Why I want you to remember Franz Stigler

There is a code of humanity that must always be in play if we are to survive our own demons. Even during war, the warrior's code exists. Franz was fueled by anger as he rose above the bomber. Yet, in that moment with his hand on the trigger, he chose not to kill a wounded enemy.

He lost everything in the war and had to leave the country of his birth when Germany lost the war. Yet, nearly 5 decades later, that single act of compassion made him a hero, a legend and a role model to soldiers across the world.
And it gave him personally that which he was sure he had lost in the war - a brother for life.  


This is part of my #AtoZChallenge where I will be focusing on Real Life Heroes: Shining Examples of Kindness and Compassion. You can find other real-life heroes here.


Spacer Guy said…
First, Me!!! (I'm doing a Keenser from Star Trek the rebooted trilogy)
Rajlakshmi said…
Wow... I am overwhelmed... All I have ever heard about war was bombing and deaths and more violence... This story is such a beautiful and positive war story.
Swathi Shenoy said…
I had never read a war story which was filled with so much warmth! So beautiful :)

shalz75 said…
Roshan your stories are stunning and just make my day so happy and positive. I love dropping in everyday for a read. Thanks for bringing so much joy to my day.

Flower power
Ls said…
Roshan, you are making me cry every morning. And then I have this good feeling that humanity still exists and we will be all right at the end. Thanks for bringing these stories.
I am in tears as i type this.. this story is amazing.. kindness can go to such lengths to transform life..
thanks a lot for sharing this.. How did you manage to collect so many noteworthy tales.. ? Is it from books, documentaries over the years.. ? word of the mouth? Do share...
Code of humanity is important in war and peace times.But more when things go crazy.Amazing story .I dont think anyone is left dry eyed reading your stories about real heroes.
Ramya Abhinand said…
Humanity in Times Of War... strange but this is true.. heroes such as these are sure to be remembered .We must not let them die down in the Archives of memory
Ritika Tiwari said…
Its such a great story to here, especially today, when I woke up reading about the missile strikes on Syria.

This story proves time and again that how important it is to be on the right side of history, and the right side of history was and will always be - humanity.

Suzy said…
So nice to know that amidst all the bad stuff that goes on, there are shreds of humanity left in us. What a lovely heartwarming story. Never know where a friend will emerge.
Suzy at Someday Somewhere - Find the Fun
simply me said…
All I can say is thank you for choosing such a beautiful theme. :D :)
Vinodini Iyer said…
To stick to your principles during a war situation takes a lot. Admirable.
Namratha said…
A lovely story:) When there is so much hate all around, this is like a breath of fresh air.
A million thanks to you for sharing such heart-warming stories which reinforce our trust in humanity in today's times. This is an incredible theme and your have done extraordinary justice with the same.
Deepa said…
This is admirable and something which makes our faith in humanity stronger. One more tale which makes me think of all the good people in my life and thank them for everything they do.
Soumya said…
How are you even finding such stories? This is just so amazing :)

Finally this looks like a war with a happy ending.
Modern Gypsy said…
This is a story for our times, you know. While we bay for blood and raise "go to Pakistan" slogans, this story is a story of humanity, of human dignity, of the goodness that humans are capable of, if they stop to listen to their heart.
He's a true legend no doubt forgiving a guy at who's is at his gun point, That's inspiring example for us
Thanks for sharing
Dr bushra
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bellybytes said…
I got goosebumps reading this one Roshan. Strangely I find the Great Wars fascinating because they were the last wars I think that valued principles like the warriors code. Since then battles have involved more civilians and acts of stealth rather than valour .
Tina Sequeira said…
Hello Dr.Roshan! This is my first time on your blog and I was touched by this moving story. I loved the theme you picked for this year´s challenge. It is inspiring and informative. I am taking up the AtoZ Challenge for the first time. On that note, I would like to invite you to my blog..the day´s challenge F is for Fuck Mantra https://pensense.blogspot.in/2017/04/f-is-for-fuck-mantra-atozchallenge.html. I would love to know your thoughts on it. Keep writing and inspiring us. Cheers!
Reema D'souza said…
When read a war story, it is always filled with violence and ends in death and destruction. But this story shows what humanity is all about!
Anita said…
Franz is a warrior code protector plus real-saviour.
War can kill & befriend too.
Touching story, Doc.
Mithila Menezes said…
I had tears in my eyes as I read this post. I've read many books set in the World War II period. The acts of kindness mentioned in those books don't affect me much, because I will never know whether they are just fiction. But reading this story about Charles and Franz was really heartbreaking. In the face of the realities of war and strict rules, they still followed their heart. It's super inspiring!

P.S.: I think this comment got published on your previous post too by mistake! I've deleted it, but do check if it's still there. Sorry!
Shilpa Garg said…
That's such a beautiful and heartwarming story of humanity in action.
Shalzzzz said…
I cannot read these stories without feeling overwhelmed! There is so much goodness in this world! So much! One ought to remember that always.
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Sanch Writes said…
That's amazing. You don't really associate war with humanity but it goes to show the soldiers too have a heart and kill for a reason. Lovely post!
Anmol Rawat said…
Reading this story also reminded me of the movie Hacksaw Ridge. Do watch if you haven't watched.
Lovely post as usual. It's hard to find such individuals, but they do exist! Great job finding out such storied brother!
Alana said…
This is one story I did know (read about it years ago). I wonder once again how humans can kill each other on the one hand, and become the closest of brothers on the other hand. It makes no sense.
Truth is stranger than fiction. Don't think we would've ever read anything as positive and inspiring in all the fiction we've read so far. I just wish our own countrymen who are currently fighting each other read this and maybe learn something.
I have always believed that the true character of a person is revealed when he/she has power to decided the outcome of a situation and he/she does the right thing. Hats off to Franz!
Neha said…
Warriors are heroes for their own country. This story transcending boundaries and fights is something that touches your heart
Archana said…
Overwhelmed by this story! The warrior code was deeply ingrained in him and I am glad he yielded to its call. Great theme and superb post!