World War II was the deadliest conflict in history. Some 100 million people were actively involved and more than 50 million people were killed. Many died in the most appalling circumstances including Jewish men, women and children who died in the Nazi concentration camps and those killed by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There were, however, some striking examples of human kindness. They remind us of God’s amazing mercy to us in Jesus. Out of love for us he died to make us, who are by nature God’s enemies, his friends.
Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton. His B-17 was seriously damaged, having been hit by flak and German fighters.
The compass was damaged and Charlie was flying deeper into enemy territory. As he struggled to fly the B-17 he realised there was a German ME-109 fighter alongside him. When the B-17 had flown over a German airfield a pilot, Franz Steigler, was ordered to take off and shoot it down. When he got near the B-17, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He had never seen a plane so seriously damaged and still flying. The top gunner was dead and the tail gunner seriously wounded.
Franz flew alongside the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown who was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane. Franz knew they had no idea where they were going, so he waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees and then escorted and guided the stricken plane as far as the North Sea.
He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away to return to his base. He told his Commanding Officer the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the real story to anybody.
More than 40 years later, Charlie wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved him and his crew. After some years he traced Franz. They met at a 379th Bomber Group reunion in the USA, together with 25 people who were alive because Franz didn’t fire fired his guns that day.
When asked why he didn’t shoot them down, he said, “I didn’t have the heart to finish 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 that. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute.” Both men died in 2008.