Do You Think You Could Spare These Pilots The Way This Man Did?Dan Doyle
This story is about something that has itched in the back of my mind for many years now. It is about a paradox, that is, surprisingly moral acts done between enemies within the context of war. When we hear stories like this we may tend to disbelieve them, but history is full of such stories. And they define the better angels of our humanity. They stand out like a beautiful bas relief against the frighteningly ugly backdrop of true horror. This is one of those stories. It is a story of chivalry in its purest sense. This is one of those stories.
Part I: Prelude
What most people do not understand, or even know, is that since the beginning of civilization itself, there has been among those who have gone to war, an unspoken, unwritten code. This code has often been recognized in the annals of war. It is called, the “Warrior Code.” The great irony of this code is that it is designed to protect the victor and the vanquished. It prevents those who are called upon to fight wars from becoming monsters.
Those who have lived by this code have come to realize that there is something worse than death…
…and that is to lose one’s humanity.
Sure, it is true that this is not always the case. There are surely some examples of those who have lost their humanity in the horrible frenzy of combat, who became, if for a brief moment in time, monstrous. Achilles comes to mind. If you remember the scene in The Iliad where Achilles becomes a monster, defying any semblance of the Warriors Code as he dragged the dead body of the Trojan hero, Hector, around the walls of Troy again and again in his rage.
It seems that modern films concentrate solely on this kind of behavior.
We have become used to thinking of war in this way. In our natural hatred of war we often paint the warriors who are sent off to fight our wars in this dark fashion. Vietnam veterans know what that is like intimately. Maybe this is why we are so shocked when we encounter stories about individual actions taken by warriors who, even in the midst of battle, have acted in unbelievably moral ways that honor this warrior’s code, this code of the soul. Those who have experienced this know something that most human beings will never know, a human bond unlike any other in human experience.
The following story is an example of both the Warrior’s Code and the strange bond that sometimes happens between warriors who were once blood enemies.
Part II: The Warrior’s Code
On December 20, 1943, Charles Brown was a 21 year old B17 pilot from a West Virginia. He was flying his first combat mission. During the bombing mission his plane had been shot to pieces by swarms of German fighters. The entire ship was riddled with holes. A section of the right wing had been sheared off, half of his crew were wounded. His tail gunner’s dead body was sprawled awkwardly over his machine guns in the badly mangled tail section of the big bomber, his blood freezing in horrific icicles over his guns. It was a miracle that the plane was still flying. And the danger was not yet over, for they were still in German air space.
Suddenly, to pilot Charlie Brown and his copilot’s horror, a sleek German Messerschmitt fighter flew up alongside the B17.