A different time, but Honor between men has never changed.
Here it came, just a few miles out, this American bomber that dropped no bombs. Then, suddenly, it was over them and gone. No one said a word. The crew unhooked the hoses, Franz flicked away his cigarette, saluted his sergeant and was gone, off in pursuit of the American plane.
If he could down this one, Stigler would have his 23rd victory, and he’d be awarded the Knight’s Cross, the highest honor for a German soldier in World War II and one that symbolized exceptional bravery.
Within minutes, Stigler, alone, was on the B-17’s tail. He had his finger on the trigger, one eye closed and the other squinting through his gunsight. He took aim and was about to fire when he realized what he wasn’t seeing: This plane had no tail guns blinking. This plane had no left stabilizer. This plane had no tail-gun compartment left, and as he got closer, Stigler saw the terrified tail gunner himself, his fleece collar soaked red, the guns themselves streaked with it, icicles of blood hanging from the barrels.
Stigler, too, was panicked. This plane was going down, and its crew was paralyzed. Stigler pointed to the ground, and, finally, a reaction: The Americans shook their heads. They’d rather die in flames than be taken prisoner by the Nazis.
Stigler was exasperated. As it was, he was risking his own life: Everyone knew the story of the German woman who, just one year before, had been gunned down by the Nazis for telling a joke against the Third Reich. If Stigler’s plane were to be spotted by a civilian alongside a B-17, and if that civilian wrote down the number on his tail and reported him, he was as good as dead.
Then Stigler remembered what Roedel had told him, that to shoot the enemy when vulnerable went against the code of chivalry and honor. Stigler felt he had to do what was right.
What kind of man would risk his own safety for that of a helpless enemy? I guess none of us will know until we face it ourselves. Honor can be a hard taskmaster, but I’ll bet Herr Stigler had no problem looking himself in the eye in the mirror.
tweeted by Doug Ross (@directorblue)