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Soldiers' Stories: Brown-Stigler, part 2 


The Homecoming

“When Franz tried to get me to surrender, my mind just wouldn’t accept that. It wasn’t chivalry, it wasn’t bravery, it was probably stupidity. My mind just didn’t function in a clear manner. So his choice then was to kill us or try to get us to go to Sweden, since we wouldn’t land.” 

Charlie Brown’s beaten up B-17 barely made it across the North Sea, arriving down around 250 feet altitude. Brown recalls telling Franz years later that had they had verbal communications and had Franz been able to give him the ultimatum of landing, going to Sweden, or dying, “I probably would be speaking at least some Swedish today.” 

Brown as a young second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces. (Photo courtesy of P. Johnson)

But Brown and his crew did make it. “We were very fortunate. Just as we hit the coast, two P-47s came down and flew by us (of course they were moving at 250-300 miles per hour and we’re just barely fluttering along) and pulled up and began circling. Right below them was a runway.” The P-47s provided guidance for Brown and he was able to complete an emergency landing and save the wounded men on board.
Later, a Colonel asked Lt. Brown to accompany him out to the aircraft. He questioned Brown as to why he would attempt to fly a plane that severely damaged. Brown answered, “Sir, I had one dead and three who could not bail out. And besides that, I didn’t know the tail was shot off the airplane!!” 

The Colonel then said, “Lt., I am going to recommend you for our nation’s highest award”. Although Charlie Brown was still suffering from shock, he knew that the Colonel was referring to the Medal of Honor. However, the award would never be. After leaving the B-17, Brown was taken to Intelligence Debriefing. 

“All I could talk about was this crazy German that let us go, not the 15 that tried to kill us.” Two hours after that debriefing, Brown’s airplane was classified Secret. He later learned that all aspects of his crew’s participation in that mission and even the casualty report had also been classified as Secret and remain so classified for forty years.

After Franz Stigler saluted the pilot and crew of the badly damaged aircraft, he returned his plane to the temporary base for refueling and then planned to move on to his home field. “I wanted to fly home because my girlfriend was waiting for me.” Franz though, had a problem. His plane had taken a hit. There was a bullet in the left radiator so he was stuck at the alternate field for the night, waiting until the radiator had been changed. 

Stigler was never able to speak of the events that had happened that day. I asked him why. His answer came swiftly, “I would have been court marshaled.” The German Officer had several close calls during his years of combat. On one of his more interesting missions he and others in his Me-109 Fighter Squadron had to escort a flight of Stuka Dive Bombers after ships in the Mediterranean. 

Someone in the command structure decided that the Me-109 escorting fighters should also carry one 500-pound-bomb Rather than dive-bombing as the Stukas did, the fighters were to go down just above the water and release their bomb, skipping it onto the ship. “So, when the Stuka started diving, we had to dive too. We went past them because we were twice as fast as they were. They were to drop on the ship’s deck and we would try getting our bombs into the side of the ship. 

As, I was closing in, I was to drop the bomb and jump over the ship. So, that’s what I did. When I looked out on to my left wing, there was the bomb coming with me!!” When Franz had dropped the bomb, it had bounced off the water and was flying formation just off his left wing. Rather than dropping down after passing the ship as planned, he climbed rapidly to get away from the bomb, which could only go down into the water. 

“I killed a lot of fish, I think”, he joked. Stigler engaged in combat as a Bf-109 pilot in Africa, Italy, Central and Western Europe during his service with the Luftwaffe. During his 487 combat missions in the Me-109, he had 28 confirmed victories and was wounded 4 times. 

Herr Stigler finished the war flying 16 more combat missions in the ME-262 jet, assigned to the select JV-44, the celebrated Squadron of Experts (Aces), making him one of the world’s early jet fighter pilots in combat.

When the war finally ended in Europe, Franz was in Munich. After combat in mid-April 1944 Brown ferried fighters and bombers around the United Kingdom until mid-August. “Going home” held entirely different circumstances for each man. 

“Coming back on the ship, seeing the Statue of Liberty. You see these films….. believe me, Hollywood can’t come close to what a combat man feels, when he has made it and comes back and sees the Statue of Liberty”, stated Brown. Charles Brown graduated from the West Virginia Wesleyan College in August of 1949. He was recalled to active duty with the newly established U.S. Air Force in October 1949 and was commissioned as Regular Air Force Officer in early 1950. 

Between ’49 and ’65, Charles Brown served on the staffs of Hq. United States Air Force, Hq. U.S. Air Forces Europe, Hq. Tactical Air Command, Air Ministry, Royal Air Force (London, England) and the U.S. Organization Joint Chiefs of Staff. He received his M.A. from George Washington University in 1955. 

He took an early retirement as Lt. Col. in 1965 to accept an appointment as Senior Foreign Service Reserve Officer. Six of the seven years he served in that capacity, he spent as a Regional Inspector for the Agency for International Development, U.S. State Department in Southeast Asia. During this time he made 72 trips into Laos for a total of almost 2 years and 14 trips into Vietnam for approximately twelve plus months. 

In mid-1972, after a total of thirty years of government service, including 15 years of serving abroad, Brown medically retired from the Foreign Service. The Brown family then moved to Miami, Florida where Charles founded an environmental and energy conservation research company, specializing in combustion research. 

For twenty-five plus years, he has been the CEO of Energy & Environment Research Center, C.B.E., Inc., where he has become an inventor and research scientist.

Franz Stigler headed back to a country virtually destroyed; with a government headed by inexperienced and mostly unqualified leaders. Most of Germany was devastated, partly uninhabitable, with no public services, no utilities and very little food. The blame was now solely placed upon the military. 

Here was a man, who only a short time earlier had commanded combat units, had flown expensive aircraft, and had been responsible for equipment costing millions of dollars, now standing in line waiting for food stamps. When Stigler entered one office to fill out forms the man sitting behind the desk accused him of being a Nazi officer. “I said listen, I have a hole in my head, don’t rile me up”, he said pointing to one of the head wounds he had received during the war. The man kept on insulting him until Stigler reached over the counter, grabbed the man by his shirt and hit him square in the jaw, knocking him over the desk. 

Franz Stigler had been a German Luftwaffe Officer not a Nazi. The police were called and when they arrived Stigler pulled out a piece of paper given to him by a hospital. This paper stated that Franz was not always responsible for his actions due to head wounds received in combat. The police, all former military, winked at Franz, decided there was nothing they could or should do and left. 

Stigler soon received a letter and job offer after that incident. One of Germany’s top pilots would begin his post-war life as a brick mill helper. “That is what we had to come home to”, he remembers. The bureaucrats, who had done little or nothing during the war, placed the blame of losing the war on the German’s who had fought, especially the Luftwaffe fighter forces; the same people that had protected them, risked their lives for them. 

Out of some 28,000 men who actually flew combat with the Luftwaffe Fighter Forces during WWII, somewhere between 1100 and 1300 survived the war. After living and working in post-war Germany for eight years, Franz Stigler finally moved to Canada in 1953 and became a successful businessman.

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  Brown-Stigler, part 2


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