Sunday, 3 January 2016


Here is a wonderful true story about an encounter between an American B-17 bomber pilot and a German pilot of a ME-109 fighter during WWII and the heart-warming reunion between the two pilots many years later.
I’m indebted to Traci Lawrence for this story which appeared in her regular newsletter, Daily Musings, just before Christmas.
Traci is an English teacher, an author and an editor, among other things, and I heartily recommend subscribing to her newsletter if you want regular doses of positivity. Here is a link to her newsletter:

Daily Musings

Posted: 19 Dec 2015 11:37 AM PST

The 21-year old American B-17 pilot glanced outside his cockpit and froze.  He blinked hard and looked again, hoping it was just a mirage. But his Co-Pilot stared at the same horrible vision.  "My God, this is a nightmare," the Co-Pilot said.
"He's going to destroy us," the Pilot agreed.
The men were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip.  It was five days before Christmas1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled American B-17 bomber for the kill.
Brown's Crippled B-17 Stalked by Stigler's ME-109
 The B-17 Pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission.  His bomber had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone, struggling to stay in the skies above Germany. Half his crew was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns.
But when Brown and his Co-Pilot, Spencer "Pinky" Luke, looked at the Fighter Pilot again, something odd happened. The German didn't pull the trigger. He stared back at the bomber in amazement and respect. Instead of pressing the attack, he nodded at Brown and saluted. What happened next was one of the most remarkable acts of chivalry recorded during World War Il.
Luftwaffe Major Franz Stigler
Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket.  He eased his index finger off the trigger.  He couldn't shoot.  It would be murder.
Stigler wasn't just motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a code.  He could trace his Family's Ancestry to Knights in 16th Century Europe.  He had once studied to be a Priest.  A German Pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany.  If someone reported him, he would be executed.
Yet, Stigler could also hear the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him:  "You follow the rules of war for you -- not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity."
Alone with the crippled bomber, Stigler changed his mission. He nodded at the American Pilot and began flying in formation so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground wouldn't shoot down the slow-moving bomber. (The Luftwaffe had B-17's of its own, shot down and rebuilt for secret missions and training.)  Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look at the American Pilot.  Then he saluted him, peeled his fighter away and returned to Germany.
"Good luck," Stigler said to himself.  "You're in God's hands now..."  Franz Stigler didn't think the big B-17 could make it back to England and wondered for years what happened to the American Pilot and crew he encountered in combat.
 As he watched the German fighter peel away that December day, 2nd Lt. Charles Brown wasn't thinking of the philosophical connection between enemies.  He was thinking of survival.  He flew his crippled plane, filled with wounded, back to his base in England and landed with one of four engines knocked out, one failing and barely any fuel left.  After his bomber came to a stop, he leaned back in his chair and put a hand over a pocket Bible he kept in his flight jacket. Then he sat in silence.
Brown flew more missions before the war ended. Life moved on.  He got married, had two Daughters, supervised foreign aid for the U.S. State Department during the Vietnam War and eventually retired to Florida.
Late in life, though, the encounter with the German Pilot began to gnaw at him.  He started having nightmares, but in his dream there would be no act of mercy.  He would awaken just before his bomber crashed.
Brown took on a new mission.  He had to find that German Pilot.  Who was he?  Why did he save my life?  He scoured Military Archives in the U.S. and England.  He attended a Pilots' Reunion and shared his story.  He finally placed an ad in a German Newsletter for former Luftwaffe Pilots, retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the Pilot.
On January 18, 1990, Brown received a letter. He opened it and read:  "Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to that B-17, did she make it home?  Did her crew survive their wounds?  To hear of your survival has filled me with indescribable joy..."
It was Stigler.
He had left Germany after the war and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1953.  He became a prosperous Businessman.  Now retired, Stigler told Brown that he would be in Florida come summer and "it sure would be nice to talk about our encounter."  Brown was so excited, though, that he couldn't wait to see Stigler.  He called Directory Assistance for Vancouver and asked whether there was a number for a Franz Stigler.  He dialed the number, and Stigler picked up.
"My God, it's you!"  Brown shouted as tears ran down his cheeks.
Brown had to do more. He wrote a letter to Stigler in which he said: "To say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU on behalf of my surviving crew members and their families appears totally inadequate."
The two Pilots would meet again, but this time in person, in the lobby of a Florida hotel.  One of Brown's Friends was there to record the Summer Reunion.  Both men looked like retired businessmen:  they were plump, sporting neat ties and formal shirts. They fell into each other's arms and wept and laughed.  They talked about their encounter in a light, jovial tone.
The mood then changed.  Someone asked Stigler what he thought about Brown.  Stigler sighed and his square jaw tightened.  He began to fight back tears before he said in heavily accented English: "I love you, Charlie."
Stigler had lost his Brother, his Friends and his Country.  He was virtually exiled by his Countrymen after the war.  There were 28,000 Pilots who fought for the German  Luftwaffe. Only 1,200 survived.
 The war cost him everything.  Charlie Brown was the only good thing that came out of World War II for Franz.  It was the one thing he could be proud of.  The meeting helped Brown as well, says his oldest daughter, Dawn Warner.
They met as enemies but Franz Stigler, on left, and Charles Brown, ended up as fishing buddies.
Brown and Stigler became pals. They would take fishing trips together. They would fly cross-country to each other homes and take road trips together to share their story at schools and Veterans' Reunions. Their Wives, Jackie Brown and Hiya Stigler, became Friends.
Brown's Daughter says her Father would worry about Stigler's health and constantly check in on him.
"It wasn't just for show," she says. "They really did feel for each other. They talked about once a week."  As his friendship with Stigler deepened, something else happened to her father, Warner says "The nightmares went away."
Brown had written a letter of thanks to Stigler, but one day, he showed the extent of his gratitude.  He organized a reunion of his surviving crew members, along with their extended families.  He invited Stigler as a Guest of Honor.
During the Reunion, a video was played showing all the faces of the people that now lived -- Children, Grandchildren, Relatives -- because of Stigler's act of Chivalry.  Stigler watched the film from his Seat of Honor.
"Everybody was crying, not just him," Warner says.
Stigler and Brown died within months of each other in 2008.  Stigler was 92, and Brown was 87.  They had started off as Enemies, became Friends, and then something more.
After he died, Warner was searching through Brown's library when she came across a book on German fighter jets. Stigler had given the book to Brown. Both were country boys who loved to read about planes.
Warner opened the book and saw an inscription Stigler had written to Brown:
In 1940, I lost my only brother as a night fighter. On the 20th of December, 4 days beforeChristmas, I had the chance to save a B-17 from her destruction, a plane so badly damaged it was a wonder that she was still flying.                                    
The Pilot, Charlie Brown, is for me as precious as my Brother was.
Thanks Charlie.
Your Brother, Franz

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Just in case you (like me) missed Waleed Ali’s commentary about ISIS a couple of nights ago, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, I am attaching a link.
Waleed’s commentary on Channel 10’s, “The Project” (usually a light weight news program), has attracted 16 million viewers at the time of writing this.
Apparently most of the responses have been overwhelmingly favourable. However, there has been the predictable negative reaction from the myopic right wing press and commentators.
All I can say is, “Good on you, Waleed. You have restored my faith in the positive power of the press.”   

Wednesday, 4 November 2015



Six weeks ago I was moved to respond to a poll the day after Tony Abbott was dislodged as Prime Minister by his own party, replacing him with Malcolm Turnbull.
The first question asked by the pollsters was to describe, in one word, what respondents thought about the change in leadership. Without any hesitation, I nominated “RELIEF” as my dominant reaction. Apparently that was the overwhelming response by most people who were happy to see Abbott go.
For me, Tony Abbott was a national embarrassment – a serial promise breaker; a blamer and an attacker; a fear monger and a purveyor of double-speak.
He is a denier of mankind’s influence on climate change. A strong advocate of fossil fuels as the best way of producing energy and, subsequently, a champion of coal mining.
In the tradition of many narrow-minded political leaders, he effectively used fear tactics to draw attention away from real issues, or to distort the facts as means to force through draconian policies. For example, the beat up of the evils of budget deficits in order to reduce benefits to the poor and needy. As well as the unconscionable drastic cutting of overseas aid.
And blatantly overstating the threat of terrorism in order to introduce laws that threatened the rights of all Australians. Also, his lack of compassion in the handling of asylum seekers by rejecting refugees and treating them as sub-humans was disgraceful. And the latter from a committed Christian, who once had aspirations to be a priest.
One should not overlook his gaffes, either. A classic was reinstating imperial honours and he even awarded a knight hood to the queen’s hubby, Prince Phillip! Another unfortunate “captain’s call”.
Not to mention a succession of ill-considered public utterances that created confusion and dismay.
As for his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, he seems to be a progressive, middle of the road conservative. Early days, but he comes across as a moderate, reasonable, open-minded and accommodating person. A breath of fresh air compared with his predecessor.
However, he’ll have his work cut out to work happily with the rampaging right-wing in his own party, as well as the ultra-conservatives in the National Party, the minority partner in the Liberal National Party Coalition.
It remains to be seen if he will weather the inevitable storms ahead.
Even though I am a cynically apolitical person, I hope for Australia’s sake, he succeeds where his predecessors, Abbott, Rudd and Gillard all failed.
Then again, I must keep reminding myself of the old joke/truism:
How can you tell when a politician is lying?

When his/her lips move!