Monday, December 10, 2012

A Brotherhood Of Warriors---Honor And Chivalry Among Enemies: WWII Aviators; RIP Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checkque

"Never Underestimate The Integrity Of A Navy Aviator"...from TV show "JAG"

A Story About Honor Among Aviators In Wartime

I recalled the quote above from the TV show "JAG" when I recently read a story about honor among enemies during WWII.

I need to preface this story with the following caveat. During WWII, my family was in Poland and the Nazis killed and murdered about a third of my family. My mom---who had 8 brothers--lost three. Two were killed by German firing squads.  My dad was one of three brothers. All, at one time or another, were prisoners of war. Dad was a prisoner in three German forced labor camps. He escaped all three, and remained in Poland a few years after the war. My uncles were part of the exchange and repatriation voyages. They both returned to the United States and were immediately drafted into the U.S. Army. All three were American citizens who had been born in Chicago before the war.

I only mention the above to make it clear: I despise Nazis and those German soldiers who took part in atrocities during WWII as well as the Communists who took their place after Germany fell.

Yet, even in war, enemies can act and behave honorably (my dad told me several stories about some German soldiers who would sneak food in for the prisoners).

On Dec. 20, 1943, 2nd. Lt. Charlie Brown (yes, that was his real name) was struggling to keep his severely damaged B-17 flying, the Ye Olde Pub. Lt. Brown also had six wounded crew members in the back of his aircraft.

Literally, out of the blue, Luftwaffe ace Hanz Stigler appeared alongside Lt. Brown's aircraft in his ME-109. At first, Lt. Brown didn't notice Stigler's plane. He was too busy trying to fly a plane that lost its front cone and rear tail guns in addition to other damage. If Stigler downed this B-17, he would be awarded the Knight's Cross, the highest honor for a German soldier.

Franz Stigler was 26 when he was drafted into the German Luftwaffe in 1942. As a civilian, he was already a commercial pilot. When he reported to his first station in Libya as part of Squadron 4, he was summoned by his commanding officer, Lt. Gustav Roedel.

At that first meeting with Stigler, Roedel told the young 2nd Lt., "Honor is everything here...You fight by rules to keep your humanity." This was not unusual among aviators among the German, British and American forces. They had grown up idolizing aviators like American Eddie Rickenbacker and Manfred Von Richthofen (the Red Baron). These were all men who fought by the code Roedel impressed upon his new young pilot, Stigler.

As Stigler flew his plane alongside the B-17, he kept pointing to the ground. The Americans kept shaking their heads. There was no way they would ditch the plane and become prisoners of war. As both planes neared the Atlantic wall, flack gunners spotted both approaching planes. They had never seen anything like this before, a German fighter flying alongside an American bomber both in sync and neither one firing at each other. Stigler finally pulled away. But before he did, he saluted the crew of the B-17.

Lt. Brown successfully landed the damaged B-17. He was directed to keep the incident classified. No one in the military wanted to humanize the Germans. 

Brown served right up the beginning of the Vietnam War. He later moved to Miami with his family. Stigler also survived the war, and he relocated to Vancouver, BC, in 1953.

In 1990, Brown placed an ad in a newsletter for fighter pilots looking for the pilot "who saved my life on Dec. 20, 1943." He held back some information about the incident.

In Vancouver, Stigler saw the ad, and yelled to his wife, "This is him! This is the one I didn't shoot down!" Stigler immediately replied to the ad and wrote Brown a letter. After Brown received the letter, he immediately called Stigler.

"When I let you go over the sea, I thought you'd never make it, " said Stigler with tears streaming down his face.

"My God," Brown said. "It is you."

After a few moments, Brown asked Stigler, "What were you pointing at?'

Stigler said he was pointing away toward Sweden (and he said he was even mouthing "Sweden."). Stigler's intention was to escort the B-17 to safety but had to abandon them when he saw gun turrets on the ground turning to point toward him. "Good luck," he said to Brown from his cockpit. "You're in God's hands now."

Coincidentally, both were Christians. Brown flew with a Bible in his pocket. Stigler flew with rosary beads in his pocket.

When Stigler decided to try to take Brown's plane to safety toward Sweden, he recalled what Roedel told him---to shoot he enemy when vulnerable went against the code of chivalry and honor. Stigler felt he had to do what was right. He was reported to have said, "I could not have shot at them. It would have been the same as shooting a man in a parachute."(Years earlier, Stigler recalled what Roedel said to him, "If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you down myself.").

In 2008, both men had heart attacks and died, six months apart. Brown was 87. Stigler was 92. In their obits, each was listed to the other as "a special brother."

This story exemplifies the brotherhood of warriors.

Their story is told in a novel entitled, "A Higher Call," by Adam Makos.
Snopes and NY Post

 Navy SEAL Died Saving Doctor Held By Taliban

Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checkque died while on the mission freeing Dr. Dilip Joseph, a prisoner of the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Petty Officer Checkque joined the Navy in 2002. In 2004, he was assigned to his first Navy SEAL unit. In 2008, it is believed he was assigned to Navy SEAL Team Six. Checkque was the recipient of the Bronze Star and several other awards during his 10 year career in the Navy.


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