17 June 2008 by Published in: General musings 5 comments

This story checks out on Snopes.com, so it is a true story. Hat tip to Sam Hood for bringing it to my attention.

Charlie Brown was a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton, England. His B-17 was called ‘Ye Old Pub’ and was in a terrible state, having been hit by flak and fighters. The compass was damaged and they were flying deeper over enemy territory instead of heading home to Kimbolton.

After flying over an enemy airfield, a pilot named Franz Stigler was ordered to take off and shoot down the B-17. When he got near the

B-17, he could not believe his eyes. In his words, he ‘had never seen a plane in such a bad state’. The tail and rear section was severely damaged, and the tail gunner wounded. The top gunner was all over the top of the fuselage. The nose was smashed and there were holes everywhere.

Despite having ammunition, Franz flew to the side of the B-17 and looked at Charlie Brown, the pilot. Brown was scared and struggling to control his damaged and blood-stained plane.

Aware that they had no idea where they were going, Franz waved at Charlie to turn 180 degrees. Franz escorted and guided the stricken plane to and slightly over the North Sea towards England. He then saluted Charlie Brown and turned away, back to Europe.

When Franz landed he told the c/o that the plane had been shot down over the sea, and never told the truth to anybody. Charlie Brown and the remains of his crew told all at their briefing, but were ordered never to talk about it.

More than 40 years later, Charlie Brown wanted to find the Luftwaffe pilot who saved the crew. After years of research, Franz was found. He had never talked about the incident, not even at post-war reunions.

They met in the USA at a 379th Bomber Group reunion, together with 5 people who are alive now — all because Franz never fired his guns that day.

Research shows that Charlie Brown lived in Seattle and Franz Stigler had moved to Vancouver, BC after the war. When they finally met, they discovered they had lived less than 200 miles apart for the past 50 years!!

Snopes was able to verify the truth of the story. Sadly, Franz Stigler died in March 2008.

Here’s what Snopes added to the story:

It had taken 46 years, but in 1989 Brown found the mysterious man in the ME-109. Careful questioning of Stigler about details of the incident removed any doubt.

Stigler, now 80, had emigrated to Canada and was living near Vancouver. After an exchange of letters, Brown flew there for a reunion. The two men have visited each other frequently since that time and have appeared jointly before Canadian and American military audiences. The most recent appearance was at the annual Air Force Ball in Miami in September [1995], where the former foes were honored.

In his first letter to Brown, Stigler had written: “All these years, I wondered what happened to the B-17, did she make it or not?”

She made it, just barely. But why did the German not destroy his virtually defenseless enemy?

“I didn’t have the heart to finish off those brave men,” Stigler later said. “I flew beside them for a long time. They were trying desperately to get home and I was going to let them do it. I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting at a man in a parachute.”

What a really remarkable story, and what a show of respect from one warrior to another. It’s a story that desperately needed to be told.

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  1. Ray Todd Knight
    Tue 17th Jun 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Wonderful story

  2. Don
    Wed 18th Jun 2008 at 1:07 am


    Thanks for sharing this great story.


  3. Mike Maude
    Wed 18th Jun 2008 at 3:46 pm

    My former father-in-law was a ground crewman with the 379th and was at Kimbolton when Ye Old Pub landed. Nobody could believe that a plane that badly damaged could make it home.

    He was also at the reunion when Brown & Stigler first reunited, so I got a first-hand account of that part of the tale. An amazing story.

    Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Tom Clemens
    Tue 24th Jun 2008 at 10:42 pm

    I read this story in a magazine that was called Ghost Wings, but now called Valor. It was started by some middle school students in Montoursville PA years ago. Although many of them have grown up now they still frequent air shows and publish articles like this. My wife did some photos and articles for them a while ago. Very impressive group of young folks. Very patriotic too.

  5. Fri 29th Jan 2010 at 12:50 am


    You can find this story at the above url or on my web site under links, Amazing WW II story at the bottom half of the page.

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