|Painting by John D. Shaw/Copyright Valor Studios|
On Dec. 20, 1943, a young American bomber pilot named Charlie Brown found himself somewhere over Germany, struggling to keep his plane aloft with just one of its four engines still working. They were returning from their first mission as a unit, the successful bombing of a German munitions factory. Of his crew members, one was dead and six wounded, and 2nd Lt. Brown was alone in his cockpit, the three unharmed men tending to the others. Brown’s B-17 had been attacked by 15 German planes and left for dead, and Brown himself had been knocked out in the assault, regaining consciousness in just enough time to pull the plane out of a near-fatal nose dive.
None of that was as shocking as the German pilot now suddenly to his right.
Brown thought he was hallucinating. He did that thing you see people do in movies: He closed his eyes and shook his head no. He looked, again, out the co-pilot’s window. Again, the lone German was still there, and now it was worse. He’d flown over to Brown’s left and was frantic: pointing, mouthing things that Brown couldn’t begin to comprehend, making these wild gestures, exaggerating his expressions like a cartoon character.
Brown, already in shock, was freshly shot through with fear. What was this guy up to?Quite a story, no? There is more, much more, and I suggest you go and read the whole thing. Good stuff.
He craned his neck and yelled back for his top gunner, screamed at him to get up in his turret and shoot this guy out of the sky. Before Brown’s gunner could squeeze off his first round, the German did something even weirder: He looked Brown in the eye and gave him a salute. Then he peeled away.
What just happened? That question would haunt Brown for more than 40 years, long after he married and left the service and resettled in Miami, long after he had expected the nightmares about the German to stop and just learned to live with them.