It’s easy to demonize the enemies and paint a generalized image of them as ruthless, evil, killing machines in flesh and bones. It is somehow understandable, given all the sufferings, chaos, and death that the men and women in the war had to face every single day they were there, and the haunting scenes that kept on playing in their minds even after the war was far over.

However, there are still tales that make us restore our faith in humanity. During those times, we receive help and kindness from those we least expect it from — our enemies. It happened during World War II between a US B-17 pilot and a Luftwaffe ace.

Charlie Brown’s Point of View

On Dec. 20, 1943, Charlie Brown, a young American pilot, was returning from his first mission as a unit with his crew members after they attempted to bomb an aircraft production facility in Germany. Things were not looking good for them. One of the crew members was dead, while the other six were wounded. 2nd Lt. Brown was by himself in his cockpit because those three unharmed were tending to the others. His B-17 had just been attacked by some 15 German planes, leaving only one of its four engines working. Brown himself had fallen unconscious but regained consciousness just in time before the B-17 nose-dived into their death.

Boeing B-17Bs at March Field, California, before Pearl Harbor. (US Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

He struggled to keep his plane running because he knew they had to make it to England if they wanted to survive. Heading down meant being caught and probably killed by the Nazis, which was not an option for them. He kept thinking until he noticed a German pilot flying to his right. Could he be hallucinating? He made the dramatic closing and opening of his eyes to ensure that what he saw was real. When the Luftwaffe did not disappear, he knew it was not just a product of his tired and confused mind. They’re done for, he thought.

“He’s going to destroy us,” he said.

The German flew over to Brown’s left and was pointing, mouthing things, and making these huge wild gestures that he could not comprehend. There’s only one thing that he understood, though, that the guy was an enemy and that they should shoot him down before the German shoots them down first. So Brown yelled for his top gunner to get up in his turret and shoot the Luftwaffe. But, before his gunner could, the man did something weird that he would never forget for the next forty years of his life: He looked Brown in the eyes, gave him a salute, and then peeled away.

Long after he survived the war, got married, and settled in Miami, he could not stop thinking about that Nazi. What was he up to that day?

Franz Stigler’s Point of View

From his first day on base, Stigler was taught by his commanding officer, Lt. Gustav Roedel, to fight with honor and as much humanity as possible. A lesson that he would apply throughout his military career.