In the 1960s, we loved the Peanuts characters. Charlie Brown had a memorable Christmas, Lucy played on Charlie’s baseball team, and Linus always had his blanket. As a pilot, Snoopy had numerous airfield battles with the Red Baron. But other important people have been named Charlie Brown.
Besides the famous cartoon character created by Charles M. Schulz in 1947, Charlie Brown was a farm boy from West Virginia who became a B17 pilot in World War II. After a bombing run on December 20, 1943, his Flying Fortress was lucky to still be in the air.
The aircraft manufacturing plant in Bremen, Germany, was guarded by 250 flak guns, which delivered heavy fire on Brown’s plane at the front of the formation. The Plexiglas nose was shattered. The -76 degree outside temperature made the plane into an icebox. One engine was knocked out, and another was damaged. With only two good engines, the plane fell behind.
Messerschmitt fighters attacked the plane like a calf separated from its herd. A third engine was damaged. The nose cone and half the rudder were blown off. Much of the plane’s exterior was gone. Six guns had been disabled, and most of the remaining five couldn’t be fired because so many airmen were wounded and without morphine, which had frozen. With barely enough power to stay in the air, Charlie Brown flew away from the battle, hoping they could reach safety.
That hope quickly disappeared when a Messerschmitt fighter caught up with them. Why didn’t the German pilot open fire? The extensive damage and injured crew had to be obvious. A single round could take them down.
Instead of firing, the fighter pilot made hand signals. He was saying something. Apparently, he wanted them to land at a German airfield, but capture and torture wasn’t a good option. As a warning, Brown shouted to the turret gunner to aim at the fighter but not open fire.
Away from German airspace, with Brown’s plane headed toward England, the German saluted and turned away.
After landing at Seething airfield near Norfolk, England, Brown was told to say nothing about the mercy they had received. The enemy should not be put in a positive light. Besides, everyone knew that Germans were inhuman, so the story wasn’t believable. But if it was true, a German pilot who spared the enemy would be executed. Therefore, neither side could say anything that would make the event public knowledge.
Forty years later, Charlie Brown found Franz Stigler in Canada. They pieced together their stories and became best friends until their deaths in 2008.