I Love You Charlie (True WWII Story)
I’d like to tell you a true story about several Americans who “believed” in a German named Franz Stigler.
In the middle of WWII – Dec. 21st, 1943 a squadron of American bombers were over Germany. One of those B-17 bombers was piloted by 20 year old Charlie Brown. Charlie was on his first bombing mission piloting a plane known also as the “flying fortress” due to the on board machine guns and plexi-glass turrets that enabled the plane to defend itself from enemy fighters.
The allied planes were attacked by German fighter planes and there were many casualties. Charlie’s plane was severely damaged and literally shot from the sky. As it fell from sight, the German pilots must have gone on with the task destroying other bombers.
Charlie’s B-17 had at least one engine destroyed, another engine damaged. The nose of the plane was destroyed and the wind was blasting through the fuselage at almost 200 mph as the plane was falling toward the German terrain.
Amazingly, Charlie was able to gain control of the bomber and managed to get it into level flight. As they assessed their situation with injured men aboard it was obvious they could not parachute from the plane only to leave the wounded to die.
As Charlie flew over the trees, he had no instruments and no sense of direction in order to find their way back to England. Then, of all the places to fly over, they flew right over a German air base.
The Germans thought the allied bomber might land, but the crippled bird continued past the airfield and over the horizon.
German fighter pilot, Lt. Franz Stigler jumped into his ME-109 and headed out to destroy the B-17. Interestingly, Franz only needed one more kill to earn the coveted Knight’s Cross.
This would be easy.
As Franz approached the American bomber with his finger on the trigger he noticed that nothing was coming back at him from the machine guns. As he approached he saw clearly that half the tail section was completely missing. One gunner was obviously dead and the other rear gun was obviously out of commission.
The German pilot made his way closer. He saw that the plane had hundreds of holes in the fuselage – some large enough to see inside. Then he inched forward placing his fighter plane just over the right wing, glancing over at the co-pilot - eye to eye. He could tell the young man was scared to death.
Then Franz maneuvered his fighter plane over the large fuselage to the pilots side. He looked over at Charlie.
Charlie closed his eyes for a moment, hoping it was a bad dream. When he opened his eyes, Franz was staring at him. As the two were eye to eye – the German pilot took his finger off the trigger – saluted Charlie – and pointed straight ahead.
Not knowing what was up, Charlie and his crew followed the German fighter plane not knowing that he was actually escorting them safely to the North Sea. In fact, without the ME-17 as an escort, they would have surely been shot down by the coastal gunners.
Once the B-17 was past the shoreline, Franz knew they could find their way home. Then the German plane turned, hoping that know one on the ground realized what had happened – as this would certainly lead to his execution.
The B-17 was barely able to make its way to the base in England as its engines kept it aloft just above stall speed.
When the commander of the base was briefed by Charlie and his crew, he informed them that they should never tell what happened. If word leaked out, the German pilot who had mercy on their plane that December day would surely be discovered. So they kept it quiet.
Two years later the war ended and life went on.
Then, 53 years later Charlie, retired and living in Florida had an article written in a German pilot’s magazine telling of his amazing experience.
Considering that Germany had 28,000 pilots in WWII and only 1,200 survived – he figured his chances were pretty slim of ever finding the pilot who had mercy on him and his crew.
However, Franz subscribed to that journal and he was so happy to read the story. All these years, he had wondered if they made it to safety across the North Sea.
Shortly after, Charlie received a phone call at his home in Florida from a man claiming to be that ME-109 pilot who had mercy on that B-17 and its crew 53 years earlier.
After asking the German a few detail questions, Charlie knew it was true. He had found the pilot he wanted to thank after all these years. As the two men talked and cried on the phone for a couple of hours, Franz told Charlie he moved to Vancouver Canada a few years after the war and that was the reason he spoke good English. He also learned that Franz never joined the Nazi party and was never in agreement with what Hitler was doing.
They also realized that they both loved fishing and decided to get together. In fact they did, with regular fishing trips either in Canada or down in Florida. Their wives became very close friends and the men called each other brother.
A few years after they began to meet Charlie held a reunion of the men who were in that B-17 bomber.
As these men gathered, they brought their wives, children, grand-children, and great grand children.
And guess who the guest of honor was?
Can you imagine the feelings that flowed through Franz’s soul as he looked over that sea of faces?
Knowing that if he had pulled that machine gun trigger and not had mercy on that December day over Germany – none of those people would be there.
A sea of faces that loved him.
It’s an amazing thought. Not only did Franz’s mercy save lives, it created amazing relationships.
Relationships that relied on a backdrop of war – death – sadness and horror.
And most amazing is this.
What did those men in that B-17 have to do to experience that mercy?
Why do we think that God’s endless mercy which we read of over and over in the Psalms – the mercy that God DELIGHTS to show (Micah 7:18) – is contingent on something we do?
Just think of the day when everyone will be resurrected, the just and the unjust, as Paul told the Jewish leaders in Acts 24:15
Can you imagine the overwhelming sense of knowing that you are now alive and that you had been dead. What mercy!
That God would have you, regardless of your past, now alive and in His presence. What mercy!
Can you imagine the "belief" that will result. Every single individual who has ever lived!
This is why we are told that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
Because every person who has ever lived will experience God’s mercy. Not because they made some conscious decision in this life that somehow initiates God’s mercy – but because He first loved us.
Just like Charlie’s crew. They loved Franz. They believed in Franz – but it was Franz’s mercy that inaugurated their love.