How many of us have ever known someone that we really didn’t like? They were someone that we considered our rival, our opponent, our enemy. If we were given the chance, we would “take care of them”, hurt or destroy them. But how many of us have ever been in a situation that we could actually take take out our hate and anger on our enemy…then decided to show mercy and take the honorable thing…take the high road and help them?
Today’s tale is a true story that took place during World War 2 in the skies over Europe. It is my hope that you can learn a simple lesson today…that having compassion and mercy for our enemies actually takes more boldness and courage than to take revenge.
Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called “Ye Old Pub” and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper and deeper into enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.
After flying the B-17 over an enemy airfield, a German pilot, Franz Steigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17.
When he got closer the B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he “had never seen a plane in such a bad state”. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, the tail gunner was wounded and the top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose of the plane was smashed and there were holes everywhere.
Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at the English pilot, Charlie Brown, and saw that Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.
Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn around 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane back to the North Sea and to England. He then saluted Charlie Brown, turned away and headed back towards Europe.
When Franz landed he told his commanding officer that he had shot down the B-17 over the sea, and never told the truth to anyone.
Meanwhile, back in England, Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told everyone at their briefing what had happened, but were then ordered never to talk about it.
More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the German Luftwaffe pilot who had saved his crew. After years of research, Franz was finally found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions. The two pilots met in America at the 379th Bomber Group reunion…together with 25 people who are now alive…all because Franz showed mercy and compassion and never fired his guns that day.
When asked why he didn’t shoot them down, Stigler later said, “I didn’t have the heart to finish off those brave men. I flew beside them for a long time. They were desperately trying to get home and I was going to let them do that. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting a man in a parachute.”
“Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.” ~ Dalai Lama