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ISSUE 84 - September 2009
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Charlie Brown

By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

There are people who suffer life with the name Charles Brown; forever being referred to as 'Charlie Brown'; perhaps never quite being accepted for what they bring to this world.

Then there are those 'Charlie Browns' about whom you would never confuse the man and the character.

Charles L. "Charlie" Brown was one of the latter. We lost "Charlie" almost a year ago in November, 2008. There was a lot written about him at the time, more perhaps than at any time in his previous 86 years.

They wrote about how Charlie had spent a career in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of Colonel, how he and Delores had two daughters, how in 1987 he was named National Inventor of the Year for his work in the field of "smokeless diesel" engines and how he had received the Distinguished West Virginian Award in 1992, awarded by the Governor of the state.

But mostly they wrote about how Charlie had been a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot with the 379th Bomber Group at Kimbolton , England, and how on his very first mission this 21 year old pilot, over Bremen, Germany in December of 1943, had his bomber so heavily damage by flack that it was problematic they would ever return safely to England. He and six of his crew members were wounded, much of the tail section of "Ye Old Tub" had been blasted away, one engine was out, full power was only available on one of the remaining engines, and 11 of the machine guns were knocked out.

Their situation was desperate as they turned Westerly over the channel. It soon became much worse as their plight was discovered by a German BF-109 fighter, flown not just by any pilot, but by the German Luftwaffe Ace, Oberleutnant Franz Stigler.

Oberleutnant Franz Stigler, 29 years old, 28 confirmed allied victories, 500 combat flights, the Iron Cross 2nd Class, the Iron Cross 1st Class, the German Cross in Gold and a pending “Knights Cross”, approached the stricken bomber cautiously.  A B-17 bristles with machine guns, but the guns didn't answer his approach. With the crew members wounded and the gun turrets damaged, their was little the crew could do but watch the fighter close and contemplated their fate.

Those of us who have had the misfortune of the experience will testify that life and consequence are not predictable things in air warfare. Thus it was that the German flew beside the bomber for a time. He seemed to assess its condition and the possibility it would ever make it back to safety, then inexplicably, turned and flew away.

Brown, himself wounded in the shoulder, continued his struggle to bring the bomber home. After crossing 250 miles of the North Sea Brown managed to bring his stricken bomber down at Seething on the English coast, home of the newel formed 448th Bomb Group.

Brown finished the war always wondering what possessed the 109 pilot to 'let them go'. Finally in the early '80's Brown set about finding what happened that day and who that Luftwaffe pilot was. It took a while but eventually Stigler was found to be living near Vancouver Canada and the two men met in 1989. In their 80's the men got together at Air Force and Civic events to relate their stories. "The most heavily damaged aircraft I ever saw that was still flying." would recall Stigler, "I just couldn't bring myself to shoot them down".

Stigler had continued the war, heavily decorated and eventually selected as one of the few to fly the ME-262 jet in combat.

The Air Force awarded Brown and his surviving crew members Silver Stars for valor in combat. Brown also received the Air Force's second-highest honor, the Air Force Cross.

Former adversaries Brown (standing) and Stigler recount their first meeting in the skies over war torn Germany (photo courtesy of P. Johnson)"

Prints of their aircraft and historical photographs of both Col. Brown and Oberleutnant Stigler together are available at Sir Erine Hamilton Boyette's great website where you will also find a wealth of aviation history depicted and more on this incredibly event.

There is much more to the story of their encounter in the skies over Germany that day. Read it and get in depth background on Stigler and Brown as well as follow up on their lives after their reunion. Find it and a recent interview with Franz Stigler at


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