Honor amongst adversaries

This is a great story of honor amongst adversaries:

Why A German Pilot Escorted An American Bomber To Safety During World War II:

I learned of the following article through a link posted on the Western PA Dieselpunks Facebook page. It’s an article posted at the web site Jalopnik.com titled, “Why A German Pilot Escorted An American Bomber To Safety During World War II” by Benjamin Preston.

As we begin 2013, let’s remember this story of universal brotherhood during this war that so defined the Diesel Era and the genre of Dieselpunk. May it serve as a beacon of hope for a peaceful new year. – Larry Amyett, Jr.

Once in a while, you hear an old war story that restores your faith in humanity. Usually it involves a moment of quiet in the midst of chaos; some singing or the sharing of a few condiments. But how many of them take place in mid air?

This is the remarkable story of a crippled American bomber spared by a German fighter pilot. After the two planes’ pilots had a mid-air moment of understanding, it didn’t seem likely that they’d ever see one another again. Only they did, and became closer than brothers.

Here’s how it all went down.

It was a few days before Christmas in 1943, and the Allied bombing campaign in Germany was going at full tilt. Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown was a freshly minted bomber pilot, and he and his crew were about to embark upon their first mission — to hit an aircraft factory in northern Germany.

Brown’s B-17F Flying Fortress, dubbed Ye Olde Pub, was typical of American heavy bombers of the time. Along with an 8,000-pound bomb capacity, the four-engine plane was armed with 11 machine guns and strategically placed armor plating. B-17s cruised at about 27,000 feet, but weren’t pressurized. At that altitude, the air is thin and cold — 60 degrees below zero. Pilots and crew relied upon an onboard oxygen system and really warm flight suits with heated shoes.

As Ye Old Pub approached Bremen, Germany, German anti-aircraft batteries opened up on the formation. Unfortunately for the pilots and crew of Ye Olde Pub, one of the anti-aircraft rounds exploded right in front of their plane, destroying the number two engine and damaging number four. Missing one engine and with another throttled back due to damage, Ye Olde Pub could no longer keep up with the formation.

B-17s were known for being able to soak up a lot of bullets and anti-aircraft flak and still make it home, but that came at a cost. The armor plating protecting crew and vital areas of the plane was heavy and affected cruise speed. Although armed with a number of heavy machine gun turrets, there were still areas of the aircraft that were vulnerable to attack by enemy fighter planes. The U.S. Army Air Corps addressed this problem by placing many planes in staggered formation that allowed bombs to be dropped while multiple planes could cover the defensive gaps of other planes in the formation with overlapping fields of fire.

The drawback to this arrangement was that individual planes couldn’t take evasive maneuvers (they’d risk damage from friendly bombs or machine gun fire), and stragglers were completely open to attack by enemy aircraft. Think about a small group of quick, agile cowboys chasing a herd of buffalo. They’re both dangerous to one another, but if one lumbering buffalo leaves the safety of the group, there’s not much hope for it.

Things went from bad to worse for Brown and his crew. Falling behind the formation, Ye Olde Pub weathered merciless attacks from 15 German fighters. The bomber’s machine guns got one of them, but the damage they sustained was immense. The tail gunner was killed and four were injured, including Brown, who caught a bullet fragment in his right shoulder. The only defensive guns left in service were the top turret and the nose gun, and the bomber’s hydraulics and oxygen systems had also been knocked out. The plane went into a spiral, plummeting earthward.

What happened next is according to the memory of Brown, who told interviewers years later that his mind was a bit hazy at the time; his shoulder was bleeding and he needed oxygen.

I either spiraled or spun and came out of the spin just above the ground. My only conscience 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.

Ye Olde Pub was spared further harassment by enemy fighters. Somehow, he and the co-pilot managed to get the plane flying level again at about 1,000 feet of elevation.

On the way out to the sea, Ye Olde Pub passed a German airfield. Lt. Franz Stigler, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot just in from shooting down two B-17s, saw Ye Olde Pub limp by. Naturally, he scrambled to give chase. But what he saw arrested any aggression he may have had. As he told interviewers in 1991, he was aghast at the amount of damage the bomber had sustained. Its nose cone was missing, it had several gaping holes in the fuselage. He could see crew members giving first aid to the wounded, and most of the plane’s guns hung limp, unmanned as they were.

I saw his gunner lying in the back profusely bleeding….. so, I couldn’t shoot. I tried to get him to land in Germany and he didn’t react at all. So, I figured, well, turn him to Sweden, because his airplane was so shot up; I never saw anything flying so shot up.

Stigler kept his distance, always staying out of the line of fire of the two guns still in service, but managed to fly within 20 feet of the bullet riddled B-17. He tried to contact Brown with hand signals. His message was simple: Land your plane in Germany and surrender or fly to Sweden. That heap will never make it back to England.

A bewildered Brown stared back through his side window, not believing what he was seeing. He had already counted himself as a casualty numerous times. But this strange German pilot kept gesturing at him. There was no way he was going to land the plane, but the pilot stayed with him, keeping other attackers off until they reached the North Sea. When it was clear that Brown wasn’t staying in Germany, Stigler saluted, peeled off, and flew out of Ye Olde Pub’s nightmarish day.

When Franz tried to get me to surrender, my mind just wouldn’t accept that. It wasn’t chivalry, it wasn’t bravery, it was probably stupidity. My mind just didn’t function in a clear manner. So his choice then was to kill us or try to get us to go to Sweden, since we wouldn’t land.

The bomber made it back to England, scarcely able to keep 250 feet between itself and the ground by the time it landed in a smoking pile of exhausted men and shredded aluminum. Years later, Brown would say that if Stigler had been able to talk to him, offering the land in Germany or fly to Sweden ultimatum, he probably would have gone to Sweden. But Ye Olde Pub did make it, and Brown got a much needed stiff drink handed to him when he got off the plane.

The incredulous debriefing officer, wowed by Brown’s story, went off to tell the brass what had happened. He recommended Brown’s crew for citation, but the glory was short-lived. Brass quickly decided that word getting out about a chivalrous German fighter pilot could endanger the lives of other crews if it caused them to let their guard down. All details of Ye Olde Pub’s first mission were classified Secret.

Stigler was never able to speak of his actions that day, as it would have meant certain court martial. He flew many more missions, though, becoming one of the world’s first fighter jet pilots. By the war’s end, he was one of only about 1,300 surviving Luftwaffe pilots. Some 28,000 had served.

After the war, Charlie Brown returned home to West Virginia and went to college, returning to the Air Force in 1949 and serving until 1965. Later, as a State Department Foreign Service Officer, he made numerous trips to Laos and Vietnam. But in 1972, he hung up his government service hat and moved to Miami to become an inventor.

Stigler finished the war amidst ruin. Anti-Third Reich post-war authorities in Germany were unimpressed with his exemplary service record, and the economy was wrecked. He subsisted on food stamps and work as a bricklayer’s helper for a while, but moved to Canada in 1953. There, he enjoyed success as a businessman.

Many years went by without either man ever thinking much about what had happened on that day in 1943. But in 1986, then retired Colonel Charlie Brown was asked to speak at a big combat pilot reunion event called Gathering of the Eagles. Someone asked him if he had any memorable missions during World War II. Brown thought a minute, then dredged up the story of Stigler’s salute which had been buried somewhere in the dirty corners of his mind for decades. Jaws dropped. Brown knew he would have to try to find the man who had spared his life.

After four years of searching vainly for U.S. and West German Air Force records that might shed some light on who the pilot was, Brown hadn’t come up with much. So he wrote a letter in a combat pilot association newsletter. A few months later, Brown received a letter from Canada. It was from Stigler. “I was the one,” it said. When they spoke on the phone, Stigler described his plane, the salute; everything Brown needed to hear to know it wasn’t a hoax.

From 1990 to 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became like brothers. Introduced by the bond of that first powerful meeting, their friendship was cemented over the years. The two men remained close throughout the rest of their lives, dying within several months of each other in 2008.

There are so many parts of that beautiful story that could have turned out differently. In any event, Stigler probably wouldn’t have shot Brown’s crippled plane. He was a veteran pilot with an iron sense of right and wrong; a man who would never kick another while he’s down.

But what if Stigler had been executed for his disloyalty? What if Brown had landed in Germany or hadn’t made it across the North Sea? What if Stigler had stayed in Germany and never learned how to speak English? Yes, things could have been different, but that chance encounter in 1943 was destined to become a chance encounter again in 1990. But more importantly, it’s proof to the rest of us that something great done now can change your life much, much later.

Adam Makos just wrote a book about the Brown-Stigler rendezvous — A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story Of Combat And Chivalry In The War-Torn Skies Of World War II — which goes into much greater detail about the two men behind an amazing occurrence.

At moments in history we have seen this type of honor for ones enemy displayed. The accounts of Knights Templar and Saladin come to mind. The warrior ethos seems to have the ability to transcend cultural barriers. Christians are commanded to love their enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)

Along with:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 (ESV)

And:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)

Southern Honor

Being a son of the South, I found this to be a particularly interesting read:

Manly Honor Part V: Honor in the American South

There’s one aspect of the article that particularly resonated with me: that Southern families have maintained a tradition of naming their sons after male ancestors. I see this in the older generations of my family, though my own parents deviated from the script. Neither I nor my brother are named after anyone as far as I know. In the Knighten branch of my family tree, however, there are several Jeremiahs, but I’m just a Jeremy. I tried to revive the tradition by naming my son after both his grandfathers, though neither are his first name. Two middle names isn’t that eccentric, is it?

True Nobility

At the Art of Manliness, the McKays have published great post on the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor, which I encourage you to read, and the poem at the end by Robert Nicoll is particularly wonderful: 

True Nobility
“I ask not for his lineage,
I ask not for his name;
If manliness be in his heart,
He noble birth may claim.

I care not though of world’s wealth
But slender be his part,
If yes you answer when I ask,
‘Hath he a true-man’s heart?’

I ask not from what land he came,
Nor where his youth was nursed;
If pure the spring, it matters not
The spot from whence it burst.

The palace or the hovel
Where first his life began,
I seek not of; but answer this—
‘Is he an honest man?’

Nay, blush not now; what matters it
Where first he drew his breath?
A manger was the cradle-bed
Of Him of Nazareth.

Be nought, be any, everything,
I care not what you be,
If yes you answer, when I ask
‘Art thou pure, true, and free?”

Does Character Matter?

Another article older article from Truth Magazine:

Does Character Matter?:
By Harry Osborne

Does character matter anymore? Do you care whether one tells the truth, exemplifies fidelity, avoids intoxication or exhibits other factors consistent with good character? Some polls in recent weeks have suggested that many are willing to excuse a President with significant character flaws because they discount the importance of character to leadership, especially when they think he brings them economic advantages. It seems to me that the same tendency may be seen throughout our society.

One need not think very hard to come up with several cases of esteemed athletes widely used in advertising and other ways who have been caught in various unlawful or unethical actions. The defense of their continued use is that the athletes are not intended to be role models in character, even though they are taken as such by many young people. When disciplinary action is taken against offenders, it rarely amounts to more than a slap on the wrist.
This disregard of character is sometimes taught at an early age. Have you seen coaches of young children seek to win even if it meant cheating? It is a sad fact that youth sports are being marred by adults who bring foul language and alcohol usage into the presence of children. Is that a proper influence regarding character to be placed before our children or does such matter to us?

The same questions could be asked about the effect of teachers, governmental officials and others who have influence in our society. If their character is flawed, can they be trusted to lead in their given areas? The Bible declares that character issues should be carefully viewed and that one without good character should not be trusted for leadership. For example, notice these statements of Scripture about the importance of good character in leaders.

Regarding  the  need  for  righteousness  —  “It  is abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right” (Prov. 16:12-13).

Regarding the need to speak the truth — “Excellent speech is not becoming to a fool, much less lying lips to a prince” (Prov. 17:7). “The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Prov.
12:19).

Regarding the need to shun promiscuity — “Do not give your strength to women, nor your ways to that which destroys kings” (Prov. 31:3). “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; he who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, and his reproach will not be wiped away” (Prov. 6:32-33).

Regarding the need to avoid intoxicants — “It is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes to seek intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4-5).

If the need for character was seen by those guided by God’s inspiration, why is our society increasingly showing disregard for the importance of character? If a man’s words cannot be trusted, how can his leadership? If a man’s words are filled with fifth, why should we expect anything different with his actions? If he is given to drugs and alcohol, how can we be confident in his sobriety at times when wise judgment is needed?

Character does matter! In fact, one’s character is the best gauge we have by which to judge one’s fitness for leadership. If we disregard flaws in one’s character and put him or her in a place of leadership over our children or our country, we are inviting disaster upon ourselves. God has always blessed righteousness and punished evil. Remember  Sodom and Gomorrah?

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Stolen Valor

My politics are pretty libertarian and I advocate free speech even when I don’t like or agree with it, on the premise that if all speech is not free (even hate speech), then no speech is truly protected. Americans allow the Ku Klux Klan or the New Black Panthers to speak things offensive to the general sentiment of the nation because they have a constitutional right to, and we fear what happens to us as a nation when we start  selective limitations on what is allowed as free speech.

Here is were my view of free speech may deviate from my libertarian friends: I support the prosecution of individuals who engage in what is known popularly as “Stolen Valor“, who attempt to present themselves as “war heroes”, wearing decorations they have not been awarded. Stolen Valor is not free speech in my opinion. Some lies may be free speech, but this is more than just a lie, it is fraud.

I am not talking about re-enactors who wear combat uniforms and recreate battles from past conflicts, which commemorate the events, and honor those who fought. Stolen Valor is also different than dressing in a militaristic manner and even wearing decorations that one has actually earned on a military style uniform. The type of uniform I suggest here would be in line with the Kentucky Colonel uniform worn by Stephen Lautens. (Please see my post on Honorary Colonelcy for a more detailed discussion of this topic.)

I am referring to individuals who either have never served in the military, or who actually may have served, but wear decorations not awarded to them in an effort to represent themselves as some sort of “war hero”. This is akin to the custom in the US of the post nominal Esq. being reserved for legal professionals (i.e. if a person has Esq. at the end of his name, then he is assumed to be a lawyer), but much more heinous. For one thing, most lawyers do not put their lives on the line in defense of liberty.

What brought on this particular topic was this FBI press release:

Huntsville Man Charged with Fraud and Unauthorized Wearing of Military Medals

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Northern District of Alabama(205) 244-2001

August 28, 2012

BIRMINGHAM—A federal grand jury today indicted a Huntsville man for fraud and unauthorized wearing of U.S. military uniforms and medals, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Haley, III announced.

An indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Christopher Bernard Graham, also known as Christopher Harold Graham and Christopher Graham Lyndsey, with one count of fraud in relation to identification documents, two counts of unauthorized wearing of the U.S. Army Combat Uniform and eight counts of unauthorized wearing of U.S. military badges, decorations, or medals.

Graham, 43, is charged with fraud for possessing an identification card on August 14 that was illegally produced to appear as though it were issued under the authority of the United States, according to the indictment.

He wore the U.S. Army Combat Uniform, without authorization, between October 1, 2010 and April 20, 2011, and also between November 1, 2011 and April 1, 2012, according to the indictment. During the same two time periods, Graham also wore, without authorization, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Army Ranger Tab, the Army Parachute Qualification Badge, and the Army Air Assault Qualification Badge, according to the charges.

The fraud charge is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The unauthorized wearing of a U.S. military uniform or of military badges, decorations and medals are misdemeanors carrying maximum penalties of six months in prison and $5,000 fines.
The FBI and U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Estes is prosecuting the case.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges. It is the government’s responsibility to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Other similar cases can be found here.

Militarism is ingrained in my psyche. “Duty”, “honor”, “country” — those three hallowed words… have stuck with me since graduating Army Basic Training at seventeen. I served in the Alabama Army National Guard. I have to admit that I sort of cringe when someone thanks me for my service, because I don’t qualify my service as having been on the same level as those who have served on Active Duty, much less combat (I’ve been told by other veterans that I shouldn’t do that…). The closest I came to combat was being military security at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics (more on that here). I have family who have served on Active Duty and in combat. My brother is currently in the Navy. We have a cousin who served in Iraq. You can read about him here and here. We are all proud of our service to our Nation.

That is why I despise Stolen Valor imposters so greatly. Whatever one’s opinion of the conflicts America has engaged in over the past one hundred years, there have been service members who have put their lives on the line in the defense of the ideals of this Country and our allies. To put on a uniform and pretend to have “been there” dishonors their memory and diminishes their sacrifice. This goes beyond a lie that is protected speech. This is fraud and misrepresentation. You can’t put brown water in a Coke can and call it Coca-Cola. You can’t pin on a Combat Infantry Badge and call yourself a war hero.

A victory for restoring/keeping military tradition

An interesting follow-up post on the Canadian move last year to restore the “Royal” designations to its military branches:

Turning the military clock back to its proper time: Now that a full year has passed since the federal government boldly returned the main branches of the armed forces to their pre-1968 designations – the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force – a decision that delighted and perplexed many, and appalled some as a retrograde step, an annum of perspective would perhaps be a timely and welcome thing.
Certainly the unexpected announcement attracted a considerable amount of media attention and debate, and even ignited a few spasms during a traditionally slow news month. Although the restoration was supported by a solid majority of Canadians across all spectra, including a majority of federalist Quebeckers, the shrieks and howls emanating from some quarters lambasting the move, did cause a disproportionate stir.

For example, opposition defence critic Jack Harris was adamant that the royal name change should be avoided because it would be divisive to the country, a fear that fortunately never materialized. Military historian Jack Granatstein, for his part, disparaged the restoration as “abject colonialism”, which seemed an oddly irrelevant apprehension to hold in contemporary and fully independent Canada. There were a few others, but it was the exquisite irony of former defence minister Paul Hellyer’s criticism that the reinstatement would prove a “monumental blunder of historic proportions”, and one that will have “inevitably costly consequences”, that requires a little further elaboration to properly dispel.
Mr. Hellyer – surely the most transformative defence minister in Canadian history – was understandably upset that his unification legacy had been – at least symbolically – overturned. After all, it was his single-minded audacity in the 1960s that pushed through the most revolutionary change in the armed forces of any developed country in the last century, effectively abolishing the navy, army and air force and forming a new single service, the unified Canadian Armed Forces.
Economically the merger was a massive reorganization exercise intended to amalgamate the functions of the military, reduce triplication and create integrated efficiencies – an ostensibly worthy goal in and of itself. What occurred in 1968, however, went far beyond an economic initiative. It was also a regrettable assault on the very identities of the navy, army and air force; their ranks, uniforms, history, traditions, titles. For a country that had always moved cautiously in reforming its institutions, and that had in the previous fifty years fought two world wars and Korea, the shock of this caused enormous pain to over a million Canadian veterans as well as to most of all ranks who were serving at the time. Unification struck at the very heart of esprit-de-corps.
The self-defeating effort to disenfranchise our sailors, soldiers and air personnel from their traditional loyalties and hard won distinctions – especially the navy, the most embattled and deeply wounded of the three – was politically motivated by a determined desire to “cleanse the forces of their Britishness”, what C.P. Champion, author of The Strange Demise of British Canada, calls “the neo-nationalist attack on [Canada’s] military tradition”. Given the ubiquity of that heritage, Mr. Hellyer was of the mind that the most efficient way to “Canadianize” the services was to scuttle them in one dramatic blow. The proud RCN and RCAF had to go; our sailors and airmen were chastened into the unification straightjacket, and ludicrously forced to don rifle green outfits and adopt army ranks. If the amorphous, brave new Canadian Armed Forces was an impossible vehicle to rally morale, the troops would have to make do with bland bureaucratic distinctions like “Maritime Command” and “Air Command” or even “Land Force Command”. The whole reinvented apparatus was, at root, an uninspiring concoction, and therein laid its eventual fate.
Some vital traditions in fact were restored before they were even abandoned. In time, nearly all would be organically returned as the unification conformists gradually ceded to reality under successive governments. With the long overdue restoration of Canada’s battle-tried titles, our armed forces can proudly reclaim their inheritance. The reestablishment of these historic identities, as defence minister Peter MacKay announced one year ago today, “is an important way of reconnecting today’s men and women in uniform with the proud history and traditions they carry with them”, which will “once again serve as a timeless link between our veterans and serving soldiers, sailors and air personnel.”
The Hon. Paul Hellyer can rest easy in the knowledge that the perfectly sensible parts of his legacy remain firmly intact, and that thanks to his historic efforts the rebranded Canadian Forces continue to be one of the most functionally integrated militaries in the world today. But it was a bridge too far, and the country could have done without the temporary defacement of its naval and military heritage. The natural process of “Canadianization” was, after all, inevitable.
Indeed, the recovery of that heritage is a happy occasion, and one that Canadians rightly support and respect. The names and deeds of the RCN, RCAF and the regiments and corps of the Canadian Army are deepened in loyal and devoted service and distinctly forged in battle. They deserve all the honours that have been bestowed upon them. Glottal stops, notwithstanding.

Military tradition under fire

I’ve read in several British and Scottish news outlets lately that historic regimental names are at risk of being done away with. From the BBC:

MoD to ‘protect’ regiment names: The Ministry of Defence says it is seeking to preserve the regimental cap badges of Scotland’s historic army regiments.

I am very much an advocate for worthy traditions, and having served in the military, it would be a shame for any nation to strip its services of historic institutions and emblems. This is akin to telling the 1st Infantry Division that they can’t be the “Big Red One” anymore. I doubt that US military advocates would stand for this, and I hope that our UK counterparts will likewise stand for the Black Watch and protect their military heritage.