March 9th, 2013
07:00 AM ET

Enemies discover a 'higher call' in battle

By John Blake, CNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) - We love to hear war stories about epic battles or crack troops like Seal Team 6, the elite Navy unit that brought down Osama bin Laden.

But there is another side of war that’s seldom explored: Why do some soldiers risk their lives to save their enemies and, in some cases, develop a deep bond with them that outlives war?

Stories about the bond that surfaces between enemies have been told for centuries.

One such story in particular involves a German and American pilot who met as enemies over the skies of Europe during World War II but reunited as brothers 50 years later.

Listen to our story in the player above and read the full story here.

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Filed under: Behavior • History • Soundwaves • Stories
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. vps

    I really love this blog. You write about very interesting things. Thanks for all your tips and information.

    March 14, 2013 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. Tom Roberson


    March 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Thomas

    I remember hearing something like this back in the 1980's as I was going through High School and was VERY interested in WWII Aircraft at the time (and that's the reason I became an Aircraft Mechanic).
    I always wonder if that story was ever true of not as I was growing up, and now after reading/hearing this makes wish I could have meet both men and shook their hands...
    "Thank You Gentleman, even when the world is turned upside down there is Humanity"...

    March 13, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ray Bass

    This is not a criticism, as I have full sympathy for the writer's comment on the use of drones, but I have greater sympathy for the reality that that same use saves hundreds, and in a larger cnflict thousands, of lives of combat personnel who would have to perform the mission without them. War kills.... get rid of that.

    March 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Al Lenzi

    Wonderful story that can be summed up in one phrase: 'The SOVEREIGN and Predestinated GRACE of ALMIGHTY GOD in the LORD JESUS CHRIST'!!!!! Thank you for sharing John B. and CNN-–great story that should touch our hearts, and teach us all to "Look Up" to That ONE Who can give that "Higher Call"!!!!!

    March 11, 2013 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. simplyput

    This is the kind of story we need to hear. Hope someone is writing the screenplay.

    March 11, 2013 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. Crewmax42

    Thank-you for a wonderful story. It shows how people can be at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to ideology, but still have respect for the other's beliefs. This is true diversity. How far we have come...down.

    March 11, 2013 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. ronjayaz

    I got a better story. What abt WW I (sic) when the Germans and the Allies stopped the war on Christmas Eve or Day to cross lines and sing Xmas carols like SILENT NIGHT, etc.? It proved to me that WAR is absurd.

    March 10, 2013 at 5:44 am | Report abuse |
  9. Evans

    I'd like to add another word to Honor and chivalry: Mercy. one act of mercy, one defiance of modus operandi, and a bond is forged that no man or god can break.

    March 10, 2013 at 4:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. Chedar

    Humans have brain. One side shows hatred and delusion one side shows loving kindness and compassion. Both soldiers may have connection ( a good one ) in their previous life. Good karma suddenly rises and the good mind gives in. That is the results of Karma.

    March 9, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Anthony S

    It's rare you hear about things like this these days. you would think that in a world like ours, where there is always fighting, killing, pointless bloodshed, that somebody would have the humanity in them to stare down the sight of a weapon, see their enemy, and take the time to think, "This man or woman is just like me. He has family, friends, loved ones of all kinds sitting waiting for him to come home. I won't be the one to stop that." Maybe if more people could think like this, war wouldn't be necessary. Regardless what walk of life you come from, where you've been, what you've seen or done, you're still human. You're still cared about by somebody somewhere. You still bleed red. These men understood that. We should all take a lesson from them.

    March 9, 2013 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Awesome

      Its 2013, with all the resources we have, the communication we have, the understanding of science and technology we have, why cant we all get along? Why cant everyone just close their eyes for a minute and think how they can contribute to happiness of someone and become a better person and give a helping hand to the neighbor/family/friend/even a stranger. The world will be a much better place if people eliminate greed and strive to love and care for themselves, their family and people around them. I hope and pray every night that day such a day starts when I get up.

      March 10, 2013 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
      • want to be left alone citizen

        The problem is this won't happen, since there are so many people who need to tell others how to live. You shouldn't smoke, you shouldn't drink too much soda, you can't build that, you can't do this, you can't do that. Then we do that to other people who don't damned care what we think, and then a war breaks out. Think about our everyday lives, how often do YOU say "they shouldn't do that" regarding something meaningless, like wearing a seatbelt. You and I know it's safe, keeps you alive, etc. but teaching it is one thing, and MAKING people do it is another, justify all you want, this is why wars happen, on a larger scale of course.

        March 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  12. r.landschoot

    there is a painting of this in some museum, really worth looking at
    Or how about pilots during Berlin Airlift dropping candy to children'
    Or uncounted donations to orphanages in combat areas. Theres a story there, but Brokaw won't write it

    March 9, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. thomase

    War is traditionally and historically a low point in the human condition, the idea of killing nameless strangers can not sit well with any human being unless they join the military to quench a sick thirst. A story like this, about men who may or may not have a murderous past is touching regardless of who you are. The fact that, for a moment in time, a small handful of human beings from opposite ends of reason shared a common moment of surrender proves that killing is not as natural as some would believe. I can only hope that private moments such as this are still shared amongst mortal enemies but I am not convinced… we are more desensitized than ever before and killing seems to be something we practice handily in peace time as well as in war time and on our own soil… who knows… but the story was wonderful.

    March 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      thats because government brain washing is used , to get you to go to war , its all for the GAIN of a few

      March 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    Thank you John for writing such a remarkable true story. It is worth reading it over and over again.

    March 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gary T. Staffo

    A very interesting and personal story that touches my soul. I am torn up because only two months earlier on October 10, 1943 this same Luftwaffe JG-27 led by Franz Stigler’s "mentor", Gustav Roedel, showed no mercy what-so-ever and continually strafed a defenseless crippled B-17 4230446 (99BG 348BS) that lowered its wheels (intentional sign of surrender) all the way down until it crash landed in an olive grove near Panareti Greece. One aircraft of the three BF109s strafed 4 of the 5 crew members who bailed out. The B-17 Pilot Lt Samuel Gilmor although wounded, ordered the crew to bail out while he maintained control of the aircraft and tried to crash land the B-17 because the 4 other crew members were too seriously wounded to bail out. All of this was recorded by FO George W. Rohrer flying as CO Pilot and the last to leave the aircraft, and the only survivor. He realized that saying “The Lords Prayer” had probably saved his life. It delayed his pulling his ripcord until after the 10 second count they had been trained for, and in this case led to his free falling below the rest of the crew and the into the safety of the overcast which obscured him from the lone enemy fighter strafing the 4 men in their chutes above him. The three JG-27 Pilots credited with shooting down 446 after it was hit by flak over Athens Greece and dropped out of formation over the Gulf of Corinth were: Oblt. Alfred Burk with 28 victory claims who would be killed in action a few weeks later on October 31, 1943; Oblt. Jost Schlang who would be killed in action January 4, 1944; and Oberst Gustav Rodel who survived the war with 98 victory claims and flew over 980 missions. He would go on to be a General in the post war Luftwaffe. I am reading this book now and I can only wish that this story had taken place 3 months earlier and my Uncle, Lt John C. Staffo (Bombardier, AAFBS Big Spring TX Class 43-4) and the 8 other men who were killed that day might have survived to be with us here today. Please contact Gary T. Staffo by e-mail at: GStaffo@verizon.net

    March 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christian

      A psalm of David.

      1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
      2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
      he leads me beside quiet waters,
      3 he refreshes my soul.
      He guides me along the right paths
      for his name’s sake.
      4 Even though I walk
      through the darkest valley,[a]
      I will fear no evil,
      for you are with me;
      your rod and your staff,
      they comfort me.
      5 You prepare a table before me
      in the presence of my enemies.
      You anoint my head with oil;
      my cup overflows.
      6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
      all the days of my life,
      and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

      March 9, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |

      You said you were reading the book now , would you tell me what book it is ? I would like to get it for my husband , and i have always loved the story of charles brown . It;s sad to hear of the strafing of men in parachutes , I'm reminded of the story of the boy throwing starfish back in the ocean , when told there were thousands of starfish , what could it matter , he threw one and said , " it matters to this one " as it did to charlie brown ..blessings to you gary .... sally b.

      March 10, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  16. A Friend

    Always a thing of the present paving hope to the future future, and never obsolete, unless we all became obsolete. Well done Franz and Charlie

    March 9, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  17. 325Airborne B co

    I would like to relate one small act of kindness I did during the Guld War. We had taken 300 prisoners and I was partially assigned to guard them (infantry don't normally do this) until the MP's arrived. We were front line assult and there were only about 20 of us guarding the 300 men. I did not smoke but I had cartons of cig's because they made great trading material. I decided to offer the captured men cigarettes to calm the moment, realizing that 300 men could easily overpower 20 armed guards. They were greatful and thanked me. Somehow I felt like we were all in the same boat fighting a war that none of us really wanted to be in. We were just doing what we were supposed to do. I did have sympathy for them and felt a sort of warrior brotherhood from that scenerio. Chilvary does continue to exist in todays service people. Killing is not always the best resolution and I hoped my small act of kindness might help avert or change an Iraqi's mind in the future.

    March 9, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Sakti

    Would it have been a great story the other way, say an American pilot let go bunch of German pilots who just bombed USA.. if your answer is yes..then yes it is a great story... Compassion is always good..war is always bad...do things so that wars never happen...don't be a fool to go to war and expect such compassion that to in your favor..they are rare and may be immoral for a warrior..

    March 9, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Gary

    touching story....Amazing that hey met after all those years wondering who the other pilot was...and weird that they both died in 2008 months apart

    March 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carol

      Gary you are right, as a therapist I work with Viet Nam and Iraq and Afghanistan Vets who have shown humanity to the people they are fighting.My father was in World War 11 and my uncles, empathy and love is the higher mind,and connect and be empathetic shows a strong man of woman. What a touching story I will chase it with my collegues.

      March 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Paul P. Valtos, Capt USAF (ret)

    I lived in Germany for four years after my stint in Vietnam.That, I guess, was my reward. The German people to me were some of the warmese people on the planet. I could not see why any of them would have supported Hitler except for the fact that the economy hd gone to hell like ours during the depression and he promised bread. It cost $20.00 for a loaf in Germany at that time. In the United States, only trhe intervention of the government with the WPA, the CCC camps and other programs were able to stave off some nuts from convincing Americans that they wer the answer. America had the Bund and the Communists, each with followers and each threatening the American way of life. FDR saw that and was determined to prevent this psycho war. When you're hungry, you'll vote for anyone that promises you food.

    March 9, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  21. MikeFright

    My dad and I both read this book and enjoyed it. The book is really about the German, Franz Stigler, whom the book paints as being a very ethical guy. In war, it’s important to demonize the enemy; giving him any credit for humanity is dangerous because it interferes with killing him and defending yourself. For that reason, the American Air Force suppressed the story during the war.

    And of course, many Nazis really were monsters. The whole WWII German military has been lumped in with the SS in many of our minds, however. This book argues for making a distinction.

    Incidentally, my dad was a radio operator on one of these airplanes. On one mission, after bombing the target his B-17 was shot out of formation by flak, disabling the two engines on one side. The crew would have bailed, but the gyrations were so violent that they couldn’t get out. After falling three and a half miles vertically, the pilots regained control at 12,000 feet. After lightening the aircraft by throwing out guns, ammo, long-range radios, and everything else not absolutely essential, and losing altitude all the way, they made it back to their base two and a half hours late but otherwise okay. Fortunately for them, they didn’t encounter any enemy fighters because they would have been helpless and forced to surrender. Also fortunately compared to the Americans in the book, they weren’t rookies when the incident occurred.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      That B-17 was some aircraft ,was made too be shot to hell but keep on FLY'IN

      March 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Lalo

    What a wonderfull story there is not way that some one will not be touched
    for this kind of human act.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Scott

    Great story and great delivery Mr. Blake.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  24. john heresz

    this is a GREAT story, I have read the book, what a tremendous honor to have known these men, they risked
    their live every day and could not tell this story until recently.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  25. marinedad05

    What a great story. These gentlemen knew what war really meant. Not too sure if these values exist today.

    I think, up to WW II, opposing forces called a truce on Christmas, and fighting would begin the next day. There were rules of engagement.

    War doesn't not mean to win at all costs. Win, but win with honor.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Raymond Clark

      Warriors from all ages share a bond that transcends the culture of the day. I can tell you similar stories from today's battles. Just because a pilot is 2,000 miles away, do not think that man or woman is any different then the men in this story. There are plenty of examples of drone pilots who've 'waived off' because the target wasn't clear, didn't 'feel' right, etc.

      Don't put your faith in machines...put your faith in the men and women that operate them. (20 year Air Force veteran)

      March 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Hugh Grant

    What a great story ! Shows civilized behavior can happen even in times of war !!

    March 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  27. EBONE

    EXTRADONARY! the last great generation.

    March 9, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hopeful

      @EBONE: I hope you're wrong...

      March 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  28. mike hunt

    Glenn Beck told this story on his radio show 2 months ago when he interviewed the guy doing the book on these two guy's story. Way to go CNN.

    March 9, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      My point exactly. Tasteless name there Mike;)

      March 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Stephen Sivonda

    Thank you Mr. Blake for bringing this extraordinary story post for us the enjoy. I've known that the Luftwaffe and it's pilots considered themslves to be of a higher order, one might say chivilrous as knights in the sky. Our bomber crews were so brave, as the losses early in the airwar over Europe were staggering. Years back when I saw "Memphis Belle" , I came to realize just how heroic that aspect of WW2 was. Again, I thank you.

    March 9, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  30. GerryG

    These storied NEED to be told. They will never be obsolete. Ok, a different time and war but still just human beings. Have we degraded so badly we forget the human aspect and and toll of war. I pray to God we haven't.

    March 9, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Fred Harris

    aiding and abetting?
    2 cowards?

    March 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010

      You are one of the reasons why people would doubt such a humane action could happen today. You are the reason things like the My Lai massacre happen. You are the reason places like Abu Ghraib, the Hanoi Hilton (camp) and the gulags exist. Shame on you.

      March 9, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
      • Well Daid Sir !!


        March 9, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brad B

      You are the one who should get the firing squad! Better yet – forced to drink Drano to clean out the gene pool

      March 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  32. GeorgeBos95


    March 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  33. John M. Cook

    John, Great story... great lesson. Forget Alex's comment about your narration... it was fine. Stories should be narrated by their owners. Thanks for a wonderful start to my Saturday.

    March 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Alex

    I have to say that this was an incredible, amazing story. The only problem is that the narrator is terrible. His pronunciation, commentary, and articulation sound like they're coming from a half-assed high school level broadcast. I don't want to be offensive, just realistic. John, if you're a journalist, you may want to keep your stories to the written page. The heroes from this story deserve better.

    March 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinks2010


      March 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      You don't have the talent to do a story like John's so you act like a kid and criticise his speach. You are one of those that judge a man without knowing what or who he is. You a sad specimen of a human being. Why don't you crawl back under your rock.

      March 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
      • Alex

        Hey guys, it's C-N-N! We should expect some kind of quality here. Just like you guys who can't even proof read your own posts! This is yet another example of what journalism is becoming these days. What a joke! I'm a vet myself and can appreciate this historical event. I'm just disappointed that it wasn't done very well.

        March 9, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  35. US Army

    Wonderful story, comrades in arms regardless of the country they serve, may G@D bless them!
    3rd BCT, 101st ABN DIV

    March 9, 2013 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  36. mistamista

    There is no bond like that of two enemies united in a common love of life with an understanding of the true value of its gift.

    March 9, 2013 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  37. william wallace

    another of millions of fine war stories about our war heroes, love them, I have had the honor of taking care of some heroes in hospitals around the nation there aren't many left of course, and you can't find out anything if you don't talk to them!

    March 9, 2013 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      I hope when you said there are not many heroes left, you meant WW II heroes. We have many heroes since WW II.

      March 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |