On December 20, 1943 B-17s bombed an aircraft factory in Breman Germany. One plane piloted by 21 year old Charles Brown was heavily damaged. The nose was riddled by flak. Three of the four engines were damaged. The entire left stabilizer and left elevator were gone. There were holes in the fuselage. The plane couldn't keep up with the formation and had to drop out. German fighters attacked. All Charles Brown could do was fly straight at the fighters. The plane plunged from 25,000 to 200 feet.
Oberleutenant Franz Steigler was on the ground and saw the mortally wounded aircraft. He flew up to score a kill. He was one kill from the highest medal he could receive. He recalls, "There was blood everywhere. I could see the crew trying to help their wounded. The tail gunner was slumped over his gun, his blood streaming down its barrel. Through a gaping hole in the fuselage, I could see crewman working frantically to save a comrade whose leg was blown off. I thought to myself, 'How can I shoot something like that? It would be like shooting a man in a parachute.'
Stiegler flew wingtip to wingtip with the crippled bomber, close enough for the pilots to see each other. He escorted the struggling B-17 to the coast. He then saluted and put his plane into a crisp roll and flew away. Brown and seven other crewmen made it back to their airfield.
Years later he was able to track down the identity of the pilot of let them live and brought him to a reunion of the 8th bomber group in Boston. They took him into a room and introduced him to 25 children and grandchildren of the 8 survivors of that bombing mission. People who were alive because he showed mercy. He had already shot down two B-17s that day. One more and he would have been awarded the Knights Cross.
"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3
Bill Roberts is ministerial director for the Washington Conference