A Higher Call

A Higher Call, written by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander; published by Berkley Publishing Group, 2013.

Makos is previously known for coauthoring Voices of the Pacific, oral histories of veterans of the WWII Pacific Theater. During the Iraqi War, he was an embedded journalist with the 101st Airborne and Special Forces. Makos grew up hearing stories of WWII from his grandfathers, who both served during that war. He admits his major interest is the air war during WWII, but has interviewed veterans across several conflicts and all combat theaters.

Alexander produced the bestselling biography Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters and numerous other books on WWII warriors.  He is also a journalist and American Civil War reenactor. Alexander earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for work he co-authored on sexual abuse and domestic violence in Mennonite and Amish communities.

At an early age, August and his younger brother, Franz Stigler, fell in love with flying. They both grew up during the depression that hit Germany almost a decade before the 1929 world collapse. As soon as possible, the two became members of the local glider club, under the tutelage of their father and a local priest who had both flown in combat during WWI. In the footsteps of their teachers, both boys joined Germany’s new Air Force, the Luftwaffe, on the outbreak of WWII. August would be lost when his bomber crashed on takeoff, leaving Franz bitter and filled with hate for the enemy.

Franz would quickly amass enough victories to be only one kill short of the Knights Cross when, on 20 December 1944, he refueled to seek out that last bomber. Franz quickly overtook his prey as it limped toward the coast, yet to face the flak guns scattered along the Atlantic Wall. The American bomber and Franz found themselves separated from the protection of their fellow squadrons and alone in the skies.

Charlie Brown was a West Virginia farm boy. He was only twenty-years-old as he sat in the pilot’s seat of a B-17 bomber on its first combat mission to bomb Germany. He was so insecure about his age that he had lied to his nine member crew about it, in hopes the lie would increase their confidence in his abilities to bring them all back safe. As they flew out, they were relegated to the position in the formation known as the “coffin corner.”  Charlie had grown to think of his crew as his family. His greatest fear was to let them down and not be able to keep his promise to bring them home.

Charlie was a religious man, who always carried a small bible in his breast pocket. He frequently found himself touching its location to ensure that it was still there whenever he got into a tight spot. As every inch of his plane, Ye Ole Pub, was riddled with flak and the bullets of swarming ME 109 fighters, he made sure the bible was present. If he could have seen his plane, he would have recognized a miracle was in the making; no one who saw the plane knew of any other explanation for it being airborne in its decimated condition.

Franz was a devout Catholic who continuously allowed his Rosary beads to slip through his fingers as he prayed for his and his fellow pilots’ safety. He was never able to reconcile the idea of his religion with the fanatical desires of The Party (Nazi Party). The pilots Franz had trained under held the same hidden contempt for The Party and they had fought their battles in the air with an unspoken code of honor, not always in compliance with the beliefs of the hardcore Nazis such as Hermann Göring. Franz had always chosen the side of honor, respect for ones enemies in the air, and chivalry. His faith and humanity was about to be tested as he closed with an easy prey; a bomber barely skirting the trees on one-and-a-half engines.

A Higher Call is the tale of faith, and a code of honor known only among the most honorable of warriors. It is an inspirational story of two enemies who violated the rules of war and lived to tell about it. The encounter between Franz and Charlie lasted only ten minutes but would haunt them for more than forty years. Each man, time and time again, would ask himself, why?

I highly recommend this book to start your 2016 reading resolution. It is well-written and an entrancing read. I couldn’t let go of it until the last sentence. The authors’ notes are well placed and appropriate to add to the story without distracting from the main text. Their research and historical accuracy is spot-on. A Higher Call is an all-around delightful book. It is 382 pages dedicated to two foes whose moral courage was purposely hidden away from public view for over seventy years.

A Higher Call cover photo from Amazon.com. A Higher Call, available from Amazon: Hardcover $15.99, Paperback $9.35, Audio CD $22.25 and Kindle $9.99.