Wednesday, July 1, 2015
A Higher Call:An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II by Adam Makos
Franz Stigler knew as a young boy he wanted to fly planes. His father taught him and his brother, August, how to fly small planes as young children. Franz eventually worked as a commercial pilot, and when WWII broke out, was recruited to teach Germans how to fly for the war.
Franz grew up in a Catholic family. During the 1930's, as Hitler's party rose to power, they cautiously watched and disagreed with the changes enacted by The Party. As Catholics, they fell under increased scrutiny, since the Pope spoke out against Hitler. August, in particular, who was dating a church official's daughter, could potentially bring the magnifying glass onto the family. In a way, Franz had a way out, having been excommunicated from the church for sword fighting.
But this official disownment of Franz on the Church's part was only one sided. Franz continued to quietly practice his faith, even making sure he always had his rosary for every mission he flew, as this became his inevitable path working for the German air force.
If you're wondering how Franz could be in the German air force during Hitler's dictatorship, if he wasn't a member of, or even supportive of the Nazi party, this was more the rule than the exception. German fighters fought for their country, not for Hitler. They prided themselves on being neutral, politically, and resented Hitler's eventual efforts to infiltrate to military with his own spies in an effort to squash dissention to The Party.
This neutrality could be taken a step further in the code Franz was taught, to down foreign planes, but not kill pilots if they ejected. This code would be brought to the forefront when an American bomber, piloted by Charlie Brown, was shot down by German fighters. The B-17 was on its first mission, flying in formation in the unfortunate position known as "Purple Heart Corner." As the bomber descended in its inevitable demise, struggling to stay airborne as it tried to leave Germany, Brown and his injured crew found they couldn't shake one German fighter. But strangely, the fighter didn't fire on them. Assuming it was out of ammo, they still couldn't explain why the fighter flew alongside the bomber's wing, taking it safely across a German flak zone.
The mystery would remain with Brown, who eventually sought out the mystery pilot decades later and learned about Franz, his amazing life, and his even more amazing code of honor.
Makos slowly helps us understand how Franz got to this point. For in the beginning, his main focus was on downing as many planes as possible and getting the coveted Knight's Cross commendation for fighter pilots. In the beginning, it was the numbers that motivated him. But as Franz neared the end of his career, something greater took over, and the numbers fell by the wayside when Franz found himself a part of an elite, yet ill-regarded unit of German fighters. Under the command of a man whom Hitler wanted to keep out of the way, this new unit was given little resources and little hope for success. But their willingness to continue to fight successfully for Germany ended up being their silent protest against Hitler and General Goring, the controversial commander in chief of the German Air Force.
This book provides not only an interesting, alternate view of WWII, but also a great story that was covered up by the American Air Force for years. A solid recommend.