It was five days before Christmas 1943, and the fighter had closed in on their crippled American B-17 bomber for the kill.The B-17 pilot, Charles Brown, was a 21-year-old West Virginia farm boy on his first combat mission. His bomber had been shot to pieces by swarming fighters, and his plane was alone in the skies above Germany. Half his crew was wounded, and the tail gunner was dead, his blood frozen in icicles over the machine guns.But when Brown and his co-pilot, Spencer "Pinky" Luke, looked at the fighter pilot again, something odd happened. The German didn't pull the trigger. He nodded at Brown instead.
Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger over off the trigger. He couldn't shoot. It would be murder.
A German pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany. If someone reported him, he would be executed.
Alone with the crippled bomber, Stigler changed his mission. He nodded at the American pilot and began flying in formation so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground wouldn't shoot down the slow-moving bomber. (The Luftwaffe had B-17s of its own, shot down and rebuilt for secret missions and training.) Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look at the American pilot. Then he saluted him, peeled his fighter away and returned to Germany.



He finally placed an ad in a German newsletter for former Luftwaffe pilots, retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the pilot.On January 18, 1990, Brown received a letter. He opened it and read:"Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17, did she make it or not?"
Brown had written a letter of thanks to Stigler, but one day, he showed the extent of his gratitude. He organized a reunion of his surviving crew members, along with their extended families. He invited Stigler as a guest of honor.During the reunion, a video was played showing all the faces of the people that now lived -- children, grandchildren, relatives -- because of Stigler's act of chivalry. Stigler watched the film from his seat of honor.


Two enemies discover a 'higher call' in battle - CNN.com