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The pilot and co-pilot of the American B-17 bomber were looking at a gray German Messerschmitt fighter hovering just three feet off their wingtip. It was five days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled bomber for the kill.

Acts Of Mercy

The B-17 pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission. Swarming Nazi fighters had shot his bomber to pieces. He was alone in the skies above Germany. The tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in crimson colored icicles over the machine guns. Half his crew was wounded.

But when Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer Luke, looked at the fighter pilot again, something odd happened. The German didn’t pull the trigger. He nodded and smiled at the pilots instead.

What happened next was one of the most remarkable acts of mercy recorded during World War II.

Action Of Honor

German ace pilot Hanz Stigler had every reason to shoot down the American B-17 bomber in front of him. Enemy forces had already killed his brother early in the war and were now bombing German cities. Not only that, if Stigler took down this particular bomber, he would round out his kill-score and secure the German equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

As Stigler prepared to squeeze the trigger, he thought that it was strange that the bomber wasn’t firing back at him.

Going for a closer look, he saw the gunner dead and most of the crew wounded. Bullets riddled the plane. It struggled to stay aloft. In his heart, Stigler knew he would be killing men in cold blood.

Instead, he opted to do the merciful thing. Stigler signaled to the shocked American pilot. He would escort the bomber to prevent it being targeted by anti-aircraft fire.

The Warrior’s Code

Stigler escorted the plane until they reached the North Sea, where he broke off and saluted his adversaries one last time.

Some call this the Warrior’s Code.

Others call it mercy.

Shannon French author of the Code Of The Warrior – “There is something worse than death, and one of those things is to completely lose your humanity.”

Five Decades Later

It was not until five decades later that the American pilot, Charles Brown, successfully tracked down the man who saved him. Stigler was now a Canadian citizen, living in Surrey, British Columbia. The two men became the best of friends.

And as a show of thanks, Brown made Stigler the guest of honor at a reunion he had planned with his crewmen.

They showed Stigler a video of their children and grandchildren, people who would not have lived were it not for his act of mercy.

How many other stories of mercy went unreported? Tell us your story of mercy. Please leave a comment below. Thank you.

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Bob Jones

Happily married to Jocelyn for 44 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vincent and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love inspiring people through communicating, blogging, and coaching. I enjoy writing, running, and reading. I'm a fan of the Double E, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers


  • Tammy Wiese says:


  • Carole Schlachta says:

    As a child remembering the war, moments of fear and tears that were from my grandparents as they listened to the radio and Churchill, the mercy of God stood out in this story. I believe there were many stories of God’s mercy during this horrible time, I shall never forget.
    The mercy of God rises up in times when we feel scared and don’t see any way out.
    Thank you for the wonderful story. Pastor Bob
    God bless you.

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