Charlie Brown was born in Weston, West Virginia, and eventually became an American pilot during WWII. One day, his plane was severely damaged by German artillery. Franz Stigler was a German pilot who, among other German pilots, saw the damage to Brown’s plane from the ground.
Stigler took his plane in the air, and instead of shooting Brown’s plane down, he flew alongside it and gestured that Brown should try to get to Sweden. Brown and his crew didn’t understand Stigler’s gestures. They decided they should try to make it to England. When Stigler realized their intentions, he flew in formation just above the wing of Brown’s crippled plane, so the Germans wouldn’t target it. Eventually, they flew over open water. Brown, unsure of Stigler’s intentions, asked one of his crew mates to point a gun at Stigler. Stigler got the message, saluted, and flew off.
Basically, Franz Stigler risked his own life to save the enemy. He could have been shot down by Brown’s plane. What’s more, if his own side had caught him protecting the enemy, execution would be a virtual certainty. So Franz Stigler never mentioned the incident to anyone.
Both men survived the war. Charlie Brown moved to Canada in 1953 and became a successful businessman. Forty years after the fact, Charlie Brown, after a tremendous effort, learned the identity of the man in the other plane. The two men were reunited in 1990, and stayed close friends until their deaths, just a few months apart, in 2008.
Their story is the subject of a book entitled, A Higher Call. The book spent 19 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.