Today’s Illustration: Help Them To Get “Home!”


  • Lt. Charles L Brown
  • a B-17 pilot
  • 21 years old
  • “a farm boy from Weston, West Virginia”
  • stationed in Cambridgeshire, England
  • Franz Stigler
  • a German Luftwaffe pilot
  • 28-year-old Franz Stigler

The Crew:

  • co-pilot, 2nd Lt Spencer Luke
  • the navigator, 2nd Lt Al Sadok
  • the bombardier, 2nd Lt Robert Andrews
  • top turret gunner and flight engineer, Sgt Bertrund Coulombe
  • the radio operator, Sgt Dick Pechout
  • the tail gunner, Sgt Hugh Eckenrode
  • the left waist gunner, Sgt Lloyd Jennings
  • the right waist gunner, Sgt Alex Yelesanko
  • the ball turret gunner, Sgt Sam Blackford. [1]

When: December 20, 1943 — WWII

Where:  Over Bremen, Germany

What: PDF of the Full Story – (Other links below as well)

  • “Franz Stigler already had 27 victory tallies to his name. If he achieved 30 victory tallies, he would be eligible for the highest award of Nazi Germany, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. If he shot down one bomber aircraft, he would achieve that 30; bombers were worth 3 points, whereas a fighter was worth”
  • “As ‘Ye Olde Pub’ approached Bremen, things started to go wrong. Before the bombs could be released, the aircraft’s Plexiglas nose was shattered by an anti-aircraft round exploding right in front of the plane, which also knocked out the number 2 engine and damaged engine number 4. The bomber was no longer able to keep up with the formation; it fell back, easy pickings for the enemy. The armour plating that protected the crew and vital parts of the plane also weighed it down, making B-17s too heavy to take evasive manoeuvres.

    Falling further back, the stricken B-17 came under sustained attack from enemy fighters. This time, the number 3 engine was damaged, along with the internal oxygen, hydraulic and electrical systems. Half of its rudder was lost along with its nose cone. Many of the gunners’ weapons jammed; the bomber’s defence was down to 2 dorsal turret guns and 1 of 3 forward-firing nose guns (instead of the 11 available). The exterior was heavily damaged.

    Most of the crew were wounded. Sgt Hugh Eckenrode, the tail gunner, had been decapitated by a direct hit from a cannon shell. Sgt Alex Yelesanko, the right waist gunner, was wounded in the leg by shrapnel. The feet of the ball turret gunner, Sgt Sam Blackford, were frozen – the heating wires in his uniform had shorted out. The radio operator, Sgt Dick Pechout, had been hit in the eye by a cannon shell, and the radio was destroyed. And Brown himself was wounded in his right shoulder. What first aid the crew were attempting in those horrendous conditions was made even more difficult as the morphine syrettes had frozen.

    Loss of blood and oxygen probably caused Brown to lose consciousness. Although his memory was hazy about the details, this is what he remembered –I either spiralled or spun and came out of the spin just above the ground. My only conscious memory was of dodging trees but I had nightmares for years and years about dodging buildings and then trees. I think the Germans thought that we had spun in and crashed.

    Although partially dazed, Brown and his co-pilot, 2nd Lt Spencer Luke, managed to coax the bomber into a slow climb with only 1 engine on full power. To either bail out or attempt a crash landing were not viable options for Brown because of his injured crewmen. With single-minded determination, he decided to nurse the battered bomber back towards England.

    Unfortunately, the crippled bomber flew directly over a German airfield, most likely the same base where Franz Stigler was. It’s assumed that Stigler was ordered to shoot the B-17 down. Stigler took off in his Messerschmitt Bf 109 and was soon alongside the bomber. As he recalled in an interview many years later, he could hardly believe what he was seeing; a bomber this badly damaged should not still be in the air. He could see the injured crew, some trying to give first aid to the more seriously wounded.

    Stigler could not open fire on the crippled bomber. He remembered something Gustav Rödel, one of his commanding officers from his time in Africa, had told him – If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you myself. As Stigler later said of ‘Ye Olde Pub’, “To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn’t shoot them down.

    2nd Lt Charles L. ‘Charlie’ Brown glanced out his window to see a Bf 109 on his wing. And, not for the first time on that mission, he thought his time was up. His terror turned to bewilderment; instead of opening fire, the German pilot was gesturing at him.

    Keeping his distance, Stigler was trying to get his message across to Brown using hand signals – land and surrender, or fly to Sweden. He was convinced they would never reach England.

    Brown refused to land – as he himself said, “It wasn’t chivalry, it wasn’t bravery, it was probably stupidity.” To his surprise, the German pilot stayed with him, flying his Bf 109 in such a way that German anti-aircraft guns would not target the bomber. Once they reached the North Sea, Stigler saluted and flew back to his base.

    Ye Olde Pub’ made it back to England, landing at RAF Seething, near Norwich in Norfolk, its crew exhausted, the bomber itself a shattered mess. Unbelievably, the only casualty was Sgt Hugh Eckenrode; the rest of the crew had survived.”

  • “It wasn’t until 1986, while speaking at a combat pilot reunion where he was asked if he’d had any memorable missions, did Brown decide to look for that German pilot. Even though he didn’t have much to go on, he kept searching. Finally, in 1989, he got a response from a notice he’d placed in a newsletter for former Luftwaffe pilots.

    Franz Stigler, who’d moved to Canada in 1953, wrote to Brown, confirming that he was the one. The 2 men spoke on the phone and Stigler described everything that he remembered about their ‘meeting’, right down to the salute at the end. That proved to Brown that he had found the right German pilot.

    The men became firm friends, visiting each other frequently and appearing together before Canadian and American military audiences.

    Franz Stigler died on 22 March 2008; Charles ‘Charlie’ Brown died a few months later, on 25 November 2008.

    I’ll finish this incredible story with Franz Stigler’s own words, when asked why he hadn’t destroyed his enemy that day – “I didn’t have the heart to finish off those brave men… I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do it…

  • I didn’t have the heart to finish off those brave men.  I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do it. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute.” [2]

. . 

Key Biblical Thoughts:

  • “The Golden Rule”
  • the law of love / the royal law
  • love
  • enemies
  • the lost world — Luke 16:8
  • retaliation
  • so good — Galatians 6:10
  • let your light so SHINE
  • evangelism / soul-winning / outreach
  • Joseph & his brothers
  • The Gospel
  • salvation

. . . . 

Sermonic Example:

(Include whatever information from above that you find useful)

We all know what is typically called “The Golden Rule” — Do unto others what you would have done unto you.  When you make decisions or take action, think about what you would want to be done unto you, what you would want were you that person, in that situation.  And then act on that understanding.  Put yourself in that person’s place, position, situation, shoes!

Don’t merely talk about — loving God and loving others sacrificially —  Love not in word, but in deed and in truth! — says John.

  • Would you want a small handful of people attending the funeral or memorial service of a loved one?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • Would you want little concern to be shown to your wife, husband, or children in times of illness?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • Would you want a personal call, a meal, a card when going through a difficult time?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • How would you feel if your work, investment in, or service in ministry were deemed unimportant?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others? Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • How would you feel if there was little-to-no honest interest in whether you were considering leaving and/or were actually looking at joining another ministry? Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • Would you want to feel isolated after leaving a ministry or church — when few call and fewer seem to care?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • Would you want someone to remember the loss of a loved one a year (or more) later?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others?
  • Does it make a difference to you during times of financial trial that someone cares and helps out in a small or great way?  Then what ought you do when it comes to others?

Other Information & Links:


2. “Franz’s younger brother August had joined the Luftwaffe against the family’s wishes, and lost his life over Britain. Franz then quit Lufthansa and enlisted, seeking to avenge August’s death.”

— Snoops = True:

“It had taken 46 years, but in 1989 Brown found the mysterious man in the ME-109. Careful questioning of Stigler about details of the incident removed any doubt.

“Stigler, now 80, had emigrated to Canada and was living near Vancouver. After an exchange of letters, Brown flew there for a reunion. The two men have visited each other frequently since that time and have appeared jointly before Canadian and American military audiences. The most recent appearance was at the annual Air Force Ball in Miami in September [1995], where the former foes were honored.

In his first letter to Brown, Stigler had written: “All these years, I wondered what happened to the B-17, did she make it or not?”

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