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A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II

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Four days before Christmas 1943, a badly damaged American bomber struggled to fly over wartime Germany. At its controls was a 21-year-old pilot. Half his crew lay wounded or dead. It was their first mission. Suddenly, a sleek, dark shape pulled up on the bomber’s tail—a German Messerschmitt fighter. Worse, the German pilot was an ace, a man able to destroy the American bomber in the squeeze of a trigger. What happened next would defy imagination and later be called the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.

This is the true story of the two pilots whose lives collided in the skies that day—the American—2nd Lieutenant Charlie Brown, a former farm boy from West Virginia who came to captain a B-17—and the German—2nd Lieutenant Franz Stigler, a former airline pilot from Bavaria who sought to avoid fighting in World War II.

A Higher Call follows both Charlie and Franz’s harrowing missions. Charlie would face takeoffs in English fog over the flaming wreckage of his buddies’ planes, flak bursts so close they would light his cockpit, and packs of enemy fighters that would circle his plane like sharks. Franz would face sandstorms in the desert, a crash alone at sea, and the spectacle of 1,000 bombers each with eleven guns, waiting for his attack. Ultimately, Charlie and Franz would stare across the frozen skies at one another. What happened between them, the American 8th Air Force would later classify as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention or else face a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search for one another, a last mission that could change their lives forever. 

392 pages, Hardcover

First published December 19, 2012

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About the author

Adam Makos

9 books545 followers
Hailed as “A masterful storyteller” by the Associated Press, Adam Makos is the author of the New York Times bestseller, A Higher Call, and the critically-acclaimed, Devotion. Inspired by his grandfathers’ service, Adam chronicles the stories of American veterans in his trademark “You Are There” style, landing him “in the top ranks of military writers,” according to the Los Angeles Times. In pursuit of a story, Adam has flown a WWII bomber, accompanied a Special Forces raid in Iraq, and journeyed into North Korea in search of an MIA American serviceman.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,323 reviews
2 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2013
I just completed reading Adam Makos' A Higher Call and I can only say I was absolutely stunned after finishing its final page. I sat quietly for several minutes, staring at the book and flipping through it looking at its pictures again, trying to come to grips with what I had just read. It is a more emotional book than I imagined it would be.

Adam has written a stunning, eye-opening, and breathtaking story of the lives of WWII pilots from both sides of the European Theater, and I dare say his is probably the most complete and best accounting I have ever read, especially from the German fighter pilot's side...it is absolutely brilliant. And as one who has been reading WWII and fighter pilot books for 30+ years, it stands head and shoulders above all the others in my opinion.

Adam's coverage of the German fighter pilot's side was the most complete I have ever read and it provided new insight into a side of things I never thought I'd be able to read. And American B-17 bomber pilot Charley Brown's insistance that Adam focus on German figher pilot Franz Stigler's side as the real story turned it from an interesting story to a poignant personal story of how things really were. Thank God that Charley Brown knew where the real story was and pushed for it to be told from that point of view. That turned the book from just a very good book into an amazing read.

I believe this book has movie potential, it has a story quality seldom seen and I believe it deserves wide dissemination. Adam Makos came out with Hell of a first book, he has a real talent and I look forward to future books by him.
Profile Image for Jon.
268 reviews6 followers
December 28, 2013
What's better than a good novel? A great story that is a true and inspirational one!I never write reviews but this book was so good, I thought I had to do so. So many things had to go just right and the timing always had to line up, or this book would never have existed. Brave and honorable men do exist in real life. We just normally don't get to hear about them. Read the book. You'll be glad you did.
Profile Image for Karen.
19 reviews3 followers
December 22, 2012
A Higher Call is mostly the story of Franz Stigler, an ace WWII German fighter pilot who came upon a heavily damaged and helpless American B-17 bomber struggling to return to England. Stigler could have easily shot the bomber down, but instead he escorted them past an anti-aircraft battery and flew along side them for a while out over the North Sea. Stigler knew he would be court-martialed if anyone found out what he had done. For years he wondered if the bomber had made it home safely and he wondered, "Was it worth it?". It took 46 years for Stigler to find out that the bomber did return home safely and to finally meet the American bomber pilot, Charlie Brown.

Author Adam Makos provides all the descriptions of battle, dog-fighting and heroism you would expect in a book of this nature but he really focuses on the human side, on the losses. Character after character are introduced only to die. The story of one young German flier is heartbreaking. In the last days of the war he told Stigler that he was going to return home, surrender and that he hoped to study engineering. Stigler asked if he wanted to take just one flight in an Me-262, the world's first operational jet fighter. The boy said yes. Since American bombing had stopped two days before, Stigler thought it would be a safe, quick flight, but the jet's engines cut out and the plane went down. Stigler raced to the crash sight and was able to arrive in time for the boy to ask Stigler to say goodbye to his mother and sister for him. The boy died in Stigler's arms. So many wasted lives.

While the description of Stigler escorting the bomber to safety is moving, the scene that meant the most to me was at a veterans reunion where Charlie Brown introduced Stigler to two of the crewmen who had been onboard the bomber that Stigler spared. As the four men hugged and cried they were joined by the descendants of the American fliers -- people who owed their lives to the act of generosity and kindness shown by Franz Stigler. Stigler and Brown remained close friends until their deaths, both in 2008.

It took 46 years for Stigler to get an answer to the question that had haunted him for so long. Yes, it was worth it.
Profile Image for happy.
303 reviews91 followers
March 1, 2016

Starting with an encounter between a badly shot up B-17 and an ace German fighter pilot on Christmas Eve of 1943, the author tells the story of the pilots of the 2 airplanes. In telling the story he also tells a little of his own growth in researching that story.

While this book is the story of the two pilots, Charlie Brown (yes that’s really his name) who was piloting the B-17 and Franz Stigler, who was flying the ME109, this narrative is mainly Stigler's story. At the time of the encounter Stigler was just a victory away from completing the requirements for being awarded a Knights Cross, one of Germany's highest awards for valor. Remarkably, Franz decides to let the B-17 go and even escorted through a flak belt until it reached the North Sea. While Mr. Makos tells both men’s story the majority of the narrative follows Lt Stigler. The author follows Stigler through his war and how he became a fighter pilot and eventually to fly the ME-262 jet fighter in the closing days of the war. Never a Nazi, Stigler is portrayed as a man who was fighting the good fight for a bad cause. A prewar Lufthansa pilot, he became civilian instructor pilot for the Luftwaffe, where he taught many of the men who flew with the Condor Legion in Spain. He was eventually dragooned into the Luftwaffe when he complained that he got no respect from the aviation cadets because he was a civilian.

The narrative illuminates what the life of a fighter pilot was like in the Luftwaffe. For example in telling the story of Stigler’s service in North Africa, the sand, bad food and probably more importantly the comradeship between pilots and their crew chiefs/mechanics is well drawn. In fact, when North Africa falls, Stigler along with most of his squadron mates squeeze their mechanics into their airplanes when they are transferred to Sicily rather than let them be captured. During this period Stigler’s ambition to win a Knights Cross is emphasized.

As the war drags on, Stigler’s ambition for glory wanes. He often gives the credit for airplanes he shoots down to young pilots in his squadron. Finally in the waning days of the war, he requests permission to join VG-44 and Adolf Galland in flying the ME-262. His story of the last days of the war is heart rending, esp when he gives in to the pleas of one of his young pilots, who really has no business flying such a high performance aircraft, and lets the young man fly a combat sortie. The young pilot crashes on landing, is horribly burned and eventually dies.

Charlie Brown’s story doesn’t take up anywhere near the pages of the narrative, but then again his war was nowhere as long. In comparison to the Germans who basically flew until they were killed, the Americans had a fairly short combat tour of 25 missions (3-6 months of flying) at the time Brown was flying. At the time of his encounter with Stigler, Brown was on only his second mission. He was able to nurse his airplane back to Britain and when he told his story, it was met with disbelief and then classified! Mr Markos does tell the story of the rest of Brown's tour, including some very scary moments of noncombat flying – climbing through heavy clouds full of other airplanes with the danger of collisions at any moment, flying at 20-25,000 ft in an unheated aircraft where the temperature was up to -40F etc. This section is also very enlightening, but takes up less than half of the pages of Stigler’s story

The final section of the book is how the two men eventually met and became fast friends until their deaths in 2008. After the war Stigler spent many years trying to find fate of the men he spared but, was unsuccessful until they finally met at reunion in the late '80s.

This is the kind of story that restores ones faith in humanity! It’s a solid 4 star read.
Profile Image for Jim.
362 reviews90 followers
January 27, 2021
In WWII a B17 bomber was returning from a bombing raid over Germany. This craft was a hurting unit; it was shot to hell, stabilizer all but shot off, gaping holes in the wings and fuselage, one crewman dead and others wounded, guns either frozen or out of ammo. The pilot, Charlie Brown (believe it or not) was only 21 years old and it was far from certain that he would be able to get his stricken craft to safety even if there was no further damage inflicted by German forces. Imagine the terror when the defenseless B17 crew saw a German fighter just off their wing!

The German pilot, Franz Stigler, had every reason to down the bomber. The B17 had been on a bombing run over the fatherland, after all, and this would be sweet revenge. Furthermore, Stigler was a flying Ace of some renown and only needed a couple more kills to qualify for the coveted Knight's Cross. His craft was nimble and his guns were loaded, and the bomber would be a guaranteed kill. But something stayed Stigler's hand. He not only gave the bomber a pass but escorted it until it was out of harm's way and parted with a salute to the other pilot.

As intriguing as this incident was, it would still have made for a very short book in and of itself. Mr Makos has expertly constructed a complete and engrossing story by writing about the backgrounds of the pilots involved, with considerably more emphasis on the German fighter. He also covers their war service and follows up on their postwar lives, including their attempts at reconnection decades later.

In my opinion this is as close to perfect as a war story can get. Makos is outstanding at describing action sequences, and his description of the aircraft and equipment is so spot-on that the reader almost feels that he has been on a mission as well. The book is lavishly illustrated with glossy black and white photos of the pilots and aircrew and, I believe, every aircraft mentioned in the story. There are also facsimiles of correspondence between the principals and the book is finished off with a very extensive Bibliography that will undoubtedly cost me some money in days to come.

For me, the book served to confirm what I already knew: not every German was a callous killer, and wearing the gray for many was not a matter of choice. German fighter pilots in particular had a code of conduct that forbade gunning down enemy flyers descending in parachutes and on a number of occasions rescued Allied POWs from SS troops and angry civilian captors. I think this is an uplifting read, demonstrating that even in the horror and wastefulness of war there are still men who can see past flags and uniforms and pardon a defenseless enemy he could easily kill. I'll leave you with the words of the famous Ace Gerd Barkhorn who, when asked why he had encouraged a terrified Russian pilot to bail out of a doomed aircraft, answered: "Bubi, you must remember that one day that Russian pilot was the baby son of a beautiful Russian girl. He has his right to life and love the same as we do," (P.314)

Highly recommended to WWII buffs.

Profile Image for Tim.
193 reviews84 followers
August 8, 2017
A German fighter pilot tracks a lonely American heavy bomber trying to escape back to Britain after bombing a German city. The bomber is so shot to pieces that Lieutenant Franz Stigler is amazed it’s still able to fly. The rear gunner is dead. None of the plane’s other guns are working. The American pilot is a twenty one year old rookie.

This confrontation between an American pilot and a German pilot in December 1943 is the hinge that holds this riveting book together. We get a detailed account of both pilots, their backgrounds and wartime experiences. Especially interesting is the German. It isn’t often literature allows us to side with the Germans. But by giving us an intimate account of Stigler’s life and showing how decent many of the members of the Luftwaffe were you can’t help feeling protective towards them every time they go up into the air, which of course means you find yourself cheering them on against your own countrymen sometimes, a very strange feeling. Probably wisely the author shies away from describing in any detail the many times Stigler shot down American or British planes. It is a slightly sanitised war we see, selected highlights because the Luftwaffe was by no means as innocent as it’s perhaps portrayed here – the strafing of Polish and French civilians springs to mind. However the book does a great job of showing how there were three sides in the war, the Allies fighting the Nazis with decent Germans caught up somewhere in the middle. Stigler and his comrades are in as much danger from the Gestapo as Allied pilots, especially towards the end of the war when Goering publicly denounced all German fighter pilots as cowards for failing to prevent the bombing of German cities.
Profile Image for JD.
679 reviews285 followers
March 27, 2018
What a great book!!! This is the first book I have read from a German viewpoint and it has opened my eyes to a whole new history of WW2. This is an awesome book and Makos brings to life the side of the Luftwaffe in it's air battles against the Allies, and what those pilots faced daily. Incredible book!!!
Profile Image for Pramodya.
99 reviews
November 9, 2017
This book was phenomenal...

I knew from the very first few chapters, that I was gonna end up enjoying this book very much.
This blend of beautiful and harrowing experiences, written together with incredibly researched work makes this such a well executed book.

I have to say this book is mainly about the German pilot who according to his amarican counterpart was the ‘hero of this story’.

I loved that it was written with such a wide perspective from the Germans side since the time of his childhood. It made it so much easier to understand the German pilot, Frank Stigler, who amidst the cruelty, violence and war surrounding the WW2, would do an act of pure chivalry and humane that it shows to everyone that ‘enemies are better off as friends’.

This book is written so well and the characters centered in and around this story portrayed so richly, that at the end I felt like I knew each and every one of them. I felt like I experienced everything with them. And I have to applaude Adam Makos for executing this heroic and awe inspiring story so well.

Here’s to Franz, Charlie and his crew who lived through it all and lived to tell us their tale.

‘ A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself’.....
A quote I think that fits perfectly for Franz Stigler.
Profile Image for Nooilforpacifists.
856 reviews34 followers
July 9, 2014
Stretches one event for an entire book, yet. . . The most interesting parts are the disintegration of the mighty Luftwaffe, and how a "Band of Brothers" of true believers -- not in National Socialism, but in air power -- escaped during the last months of war, from Göring's grasp. They slid to Austria with an ever-decreasing number of serviceable aircraft, plus the few remaining Messerschmitt jets.
Profile Image for Daniel Villines.
376 reviews50 followers
February 19, 2022
The stated subject matter in A Higher Call was a bit of a decoy. The merciful events that serve as the focal point of the book’s synopsis and also decorated its cover comprise only a small portion of the book's content. A Higher Call’s true nature is a biography of the German fighter pilot, Franz Stigler, from his initial days of flight, through his fighting as a fighter pilot during WWII, and concluding with his post-war years. Therefore, it felt like I was deceived into reading Stigler’s biography.

According to A Higher Call, Stigler was a German fighter pilot credited with shooting down 45 allied aircraft during his 400-plus combat missions. He probably killed more than a hundred enemy airmen and continued to fly missions up until the very end of the war. He advanced in rank from corporal to first lieutenant in the span of his three years of service. This was a person who, at best, was fully committed to the killing that was required of a German fighter pilot; or at worst, was fully indoctrinated into the Nazi Party.

Contrary to his military record, however, Adam Makos portrays Franz Stigler as someone who is other than what the facts of his military service would suggest. He made Stigler into a victim of the Nazi Party, a victim of his conscription into the Air Force, and a victim of the war. Makos molds Stigler into consistency with his single act of mercy that he granted to an aircraft that he thought would perish anyways. Essentially, Makos transforms Stigler’s lapse in military judgment, which was probably due to prolonged fatigue, into a moral decision that was supposedly a natural part of Stigler’s character. For me, the sum of the factual parts of Stigler’s war record did not add up to the warrior-with-a-heart character that Adam Makos (or, to be fair, Stigler’s relayed account) depicts in A Higher Call.
Profile Image for A.L. Sowards.
Author 16 books1,034 followers
January 17, 2016
I really enjoyed this book. After looking at the cover and reading the back, I expected it to be the story of a US bomber crew and a German fighter pilot. In reality, the majority of the book was about the German fighter pilot, Franz Stigler, but that didn’t make the book any less enjoyable. I’ve read more about American bomber crews than about German fighters anyway, so I liked the unexpected focus.

The highlight of the book involved

Though the majority of the book covered Franz and the German pilots he worked with, Makos was able to capture in a very short time a feeling of what the bomber crews went through. He revealed that one of the crew members was hording chocolate rations (his own, and any his crew mates would give to him) for an upcoming Christmas party as gifts for the English children who would attend. (On a poignant note, the crew member, a gunner, didn’t live to see the party, instead dying on his first combat mission.) He also showed a pilot trying to shave (masks sealed better on clean-shaven faces, so shaving was important), but the poor man’s hands were shaking so badly that he nicked himself three times in a row.

I’ve long known that not every German during WWII was a Nazi. Franz and his family were opposed to Hitler from early on. What I didn’t realize was how tepid enthusiasm for the Nazis was in general among the German air force. (Granted, this book takes place mostly after the tide has turned, beginning in N. Africa—some of them may have felt differently in 1939-41, when the German war machine had yet to suffer any major setbacks. Also, Franz may have been drawn toward others with political philosophies similar to himself.)

Franz began the war as a commercial pilot. Then he served as an instructor, then a fighter pilot in N. Africa, Sicily, Germany, and ultimately with Adolf Galland’s group of pilots in the closing days of the war, flying the new German jet, the Me 262. With that last group, Franz and his associates knew the war was lost, but they were determined to defend German cities from aerial bombardment. Their reasoning was that if they could save one child from being killed, they were fulfilling their duty. Yet as a modern reader who knew when Hitler would kill himself and when the final surrender would take place, their efforts seemed tragic. Perhaps knocking a group of bombers from 200 to 190 would keep a few houses safe . . . but not necessarily. The men were flying a new plane. None of them were all that familiar with it, and the Me 262’s engine (made with inferior materials because better ones weren’t available in Germany that late in the war) had a habit of stalling, exploding, and otherwise causing death to pilots. There were many accidents resulting in death or horrible injuries in March and April of 1945—it made me wish the men, most of them accomplished pilots, would sit out the remainder of the war and go home to their families.

The final part of the book covers Franz and Charlie during their post-war lives, including their unlikely reunion.

Overall, this is one I recommend. It’s written for a general audience, so even readers only marginally familiar with WWII will be able to enjoy this true story.
Profile Image for Linda B.D..
214 reviews7 followers
October 6, 2015
I bought this book for my husband. I usually read time travel, romance, and apocalyptic books. I read the cover and it sounded interesting. I've always loved non-fiction-especially history concentrating on time travel during the Civil War. After all, this is a New York Times Best Seller, so I decided to give it a try, thinking I would read the first chapter then fall asleep. With 371 pages also filled with many, many pictures (never printed before), I was captured with the plot immediately. No way could I stop reading this book. It intertwines the lives of enemies- Germans and the Americans-especially two men. It took the author eight years of research to write this book. His impeccable details proves his acclaimed research. It does not glorify war, in fact, almost the opposite. It shows how the fighter pilots REALLY felt. The vivid details, love, heartbreak, families torn apart, some killed, but most of all it gives a very clear picture of World War 11. I thought my history was pretty good-little did I realize, I knew nothing! I thought everyone knew what Hitler was doing with the concentration camps! It tells of how hearts change in war, sometimes for the worst, but also sometimes for the best. I cannot say enough about this book to give it the justice and proclamation it deserves. I've always wanted to visit camps in Germany, with many other major landmarks. I envy the author of his knowledge. This book just heightened my personal desires. Maybe someday I will be able to visit the places in Gemany- with this book forever burned into my mind. Highly recommended to everyone.
Profile Image for Laurel.
121 reviews
June 17, 2013
I just finished reading A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World
War II. I was a little skeptical about the use of the word "incredible" in the title. I discovered that the author chose it for the best of reasons- it's totally accurate. This is an incredible book to read and experience from a personal and historical point of view; plus the story it weaves about two pilots from opposing sides is truly incredible! It is difficult to write this review without sounding sappy or as if I am gushing...it is that good.

Anyone who has professes to have a genuine interest in the human side of war, especially if you are willing to think about the War in Europe from the perspective of either side, represented by German ace Franz Stigler, and the American side, represented by B-17 pilot Charlie Brown; this book is a must read for you. I was deeply moved while reading many parts of this book-several times to tears, such that I closed it up for a while to let the visual pictures in my head reside there, quietly.

I did not expect this book to read like a novel, full of tension, and page-turning apprehension/excitement. At mid point, when these two adversaries met in battle over Germany, I kept reading until 3 a.m. this morning, until that particular part of the tale was resolved. I finished the book in one long sitting today. Makos' craft as a writer is well- honed. He is able to weave informational and statistical material throughout his text, without ever losing the threads of human interest that bind the parts of this interlocking story together. Those of us who appreciate the bravery of "ordinary" men in extraordinary times, owe Makos our thanks. A remarkable story with all of its twists and turns, from Munich and the northern shores of Africa, to the landing fields of England, and eventually to the shores of Canada and the United States, might have remained untold.

Additionally, I learned a great deal of new information from this book, and have a better idea what it might have been like to be part of a B-17bomber crew, or what it took to become an Ace in the Luftwaffe, without caving in to the incredible pressures exerted by Goerring, or the Gestapo.

Makos has written another book called Voices of the Pacific, which I intend to read. I hope that it achieves the level of excellence found in A Higher Call.
Profile Image for Sweetwilliam.
154 reviews52 followers
August 24, 2019
I sometimes hesitate to recommend certain books because they can be a chore to read. Adam Makos books are different. They read like novels and they always start out painless, maintain the reader’s interest and end with a reunion of the combatants. It is recipe for success.

A Higher Call is a must read for all WWII aficionados, history buffs, and aviation enthusiasts. Heck, even the dabblers will enjoy this one. Like every Makos book, it entertains from start to finish and it does not intimidate.

I gleaned so much insight into the Luftwaffe. I have to say I was very impressed with these often times chivalrous Teutonic Knights of the air. The problem was that the Luftwaffe was fighting two front war: The Allies and the Nazi party. I must say I walked away rather impressed by the code that Luftwaffe aces adhered to. After they shot down a bomber crew they would often have to land and save the crew from summary execution from locals or the SS.

I was also in awe of the US bomber crews. This book gives you an appreciation of how dangerous these missions were. The 8th air force lost more airmen then the entire Marine Corp in Pacific theater.

This was a very good read. 5 stars.
Profile Image for Ranjeev Dubey.
Author 3 books68 followers
October 7, 2013
I guess you would say this book is flogging a dead bomber. The story is worth 1000 words, maybe 2000 but having been there and done that, the authors have gone on to stretch it into a book. Its a lot of stretching.

Still, I read it through because somewhere in all this, I learnt a lot more about what life was like for German airmen supporting the Africa Corps in WW2. Considerably more interesting was Luftwaffe experience of the last days of the Third Reich and even more, the truth about the World's first jet warbird, the ME 262, under actual combat conditions.

Read it only if you love WW2 aerial combat stuff.
Profile Image for Paul.
307 reviews
December 23, 2014
This was a great book. At Christmastime in 1943, a German – who was already one of the leading fighter pilots at that point of the war – comes across a severely damaged B-24, barely able to fly, but instead of shooting it down, he leads it out into the Atlantic – and gives the crew a chance to survive. He had never shown such mercy before, and the risk of his own execution was profoundly real, yet he couldn’t bring himself to shoot them down. The two pilots met nearly 50 years later, and that account is also part of this amazing story that I recommend highly!
Profile Image for Irena Pasvinter.
282 reviews50 followers
April 13, 2021
The book tells a fascinating story behind the true war time incident: the German ace Franz Stigler spared lives of the helpless crew of a damaged American bomber led by Charlie Brown. Franz actually put himself in danger of court-marshalling by this chivalrous act. Many years later the captain of the bomber found the German pilot to whom he owned his life, and they became friends.


The story is well told. Adam Makos presents the lives and fates of the American and the German pilots in parallel, as a joint fictionalized memoir, in third person narration. He spent some 8 years on interviewing the protagonists, researching, and finally writing the book.

I found the part about Franz's service in LuftWaffe including the conflict between LuftWaffe's aces and it's Nazi high commander Hermann Goring especially interesting.

My least favorite element of the book were the hints at God taking a special interest in the fate of the pilots, such as guiding Franz's hand when he spared the helpless American pilots and preserving him or Charlie on other occasions. I can perfectly understand the pilots being superstitious and finding solace in God's protection, but the author obviously shares this fascination with the higher powers -- well, his right, but not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Monica Johnson.
601 reviews3 followers
July 17, 2015
I feel awful rating this book with 1 star. I thought I would be enraptured. The reviews are amazing. I read, and read, and read, but just could not get into it. I finally put it down, because I had a stack of books that were breathing down my neck. Another embarrassing confession: My elderly next door neighbor lent me the book when he found out how much I enjoyed "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. They are the sweetest neighbors you could ever ask for, and after I tried for months to get into this book, I knew I should just return it. I returned it, and did not have the heart to tell them I didn't even finish it. Their faces were so excited to see how much I loved it....so I thanked them with a big smile, and just said, "Wow, that was incredible." Now I am forced to live with that lie of omission for the rest of my life, and it makes me wonder how many of my friends have pulled the same fake enthusiasm after reading one of my recommendations. I feel the urge to light 3 times the amount of fireworks, and eat triple servings of watermelon, all while whistling American the Beautiful, to simply imply that, "Yes, I am a very proud American who is extremely grateful for our WWII vets."....I just didn't like this book.
Profile Image for David.
1,630 reviews102 followers
January 24, 2022
It is refreshing to read a book about war that reminds us that there are good people just doing their job as well as bad people on each side in a conflict. Franz was a truly dedicated professional warrior but also had compassion for his enemy in his encounter with Charlie and his barely flying B-17 over Germany. It was very difficult to put down even though I had other priorities; I couldn't wait to pick it up again. It was also a well written account of something truly amazing; a story suppressed for security reasons during the war and then just forgotten. The author's detailed, step by step, description of the crew preparing themselves, the plane, going though the mission and returning to base almost made you feel like one of the participating crew mwmbers. But the most amazing part is how the eventual contact between Franz and Charlie decades after the war came about. I highly, HIGHLY!, recommend this book, even if you are not into reading about WWII. If I write any more I will give too much away...
Profile Image for Anne.
Author 1 book44 followers
August 22, 2013
If I could have given more than 5*****, I would have. This book was that good. it was so well written, yet the story could have written itself. It is something you usually read about in novels, but think, "This could not be for real." But yes, it was. I concerns two WWII pilots, Franz Stigler, a German and Charlie Brown, an American. Neither was political. Stigler was a young German born of devout Roman Catholic family in Bavaria who were avidly anti-Nazi and Charlie was the son of American farmers. Both were dedicated to their countries. One day, Charlie was bombing northern Germany when a score of German fighters appeared around him. he was strafed on all sides, and his plane was rapidly getting punched to pieces by all the bullets. Suddenly the German fighters were gone, and Charlie was just beginning to hope he could turn around and try and make it home when a lone German plane showed up on his right wing. Franz Stigler. At first Charlie thought "this is it" we are goners. but for some strange reason no shots were fires and the German pilot hung on their right wing as they turned towards the North Sea. He kept pointing and mouthing words which were intelligibly to the Americans, but Franz was trying to get them to go to Sweden, a 1/2 hours flight where they could be safe. But Charlie did not understand, not did he realize that the German gunners on the North Sea shore did not fire because they saw one of their own with the American plane and figured he was going to take them down over the water. But instead he escorted them farther out to a safe area and watched them turn toward England. Saying a prayer he returned to Germany. Neither plot knew the other and Franz knew he had to keep quiet or he could be shot.
The story continued mostly about Franz and the difficulty of his next two years under the failing German fighting. he continued half-hearted and witnessed the hell that the people were going through due to the greed of Hitler and Goering. Goering in one part showed his absolute evil in refusing to give the Air Force the newly minted Jet fighters and kept them for the bombers as the Air force went on with younger and less trained pilots in older and worse planes.
When the war was over, both men went on with their lives, sometimes thinking about each other and the odds that the other might had survived. When they were old men, Franz, who had moved to Vancouver B.C. was attending a get together of pilots from the war and decided to tell his story. It went out to the world, and somehow, Charlie Brown read about it, the two men met. It was so beautiful, I cried-especially when the haters came out against Franz, a good and decent man calling him a Nazi, which he never was. But it sure was one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read. I am not a fan of warfare, but this was so good, some of the battled did not bother me because the story was that good. Highly recommend to anyone who wants to read a moving and beautiful story of the decency of one German pilot and the men who lived because of him.
77 reviews3 followers
August 1, 2013
As a guy who reads volumes of pilot bios and has high rated some classics, let me say this...ONLY this book made me Misty-Eyed for 20 minutes during the wrap-up. That's because it is a piece of human drama at a war backdrop, and not the other way around.

On one hand, there is an account of an American bomber crew who survived at both the mercy, grace, and self-sacrificing chivalry of their opponent. But theirs is the highlight side story tale, which brought this bio to life.

On the other hand, it is a bio of German Ace Stigler, whose name is little known to followers of the genre - though he was wrapped around so many famous characters from the genre that its surprising he'd escaped with so little notice elsewhere as a side character in other bios. Much of the reason for this is explained by this tale - the chivalry tale of the 'enemy' both sparing and escorting his wounded opponents to safety, then spending the rest of the war avoiding tracking his victories as his mind burned with the close-horror image of those he'd spared making it so hard for him to desire any credit for the less direct killings he'd actually caused while continuing to serve.

While ace records keepers might wonder where his score would be today since he claimed hardly any kills for years after sparing this one crew - that's the point! He clearly was in the company of ace 'giants' whose actual scores were public. For Mr. Stigler, such things were a shameful burden he avoided, and he refocused his job on keeping the rookies alive and competent for their own sakes, and the illusory glory of war was lost to his earlier overachieving self.

While some followers of the genre and WW-II history will be surprised by his in depth exposure to the shocking incompetence and insanity of Nazi leadership, those who've read General Galland's book will see so much corroborated by yet another secretive Anti-Nazi officer (fearing the gestapo) whilst highly placed in the German air force. it is another credit to he and his brethren to tell of their near escapes from their own government's witch hunts whilst serving in life/death front line duty.

Anyone who follows WW-II flying is widely aware that we must look past the governments they had to serve to judge the man and his actions. This book stands apart as a shining example of the humanity of warriors and the healing of wounds with time.

But, never mind all that. This is a touching tale of humanity under the worst circumstances, and redemption on both sides, forty years later. That is the story here, and that detail makes the rest of it academic.
Profile Image for Olivia.
674 reviews104 followers
January 14, 2019
Franz and Charlie.
On opposites sides.
But united through the bond of a horrific moment captured in the midst of battle.

This is an incredibly emotional story that was both informative, intriguing, and easily visualized. It's not often true stories can hold a readers attention so well, but this one far surpassed what I expected. The moment between Franz and Charlie is brief compared to the extent of the rest of the book, but I wasn't bored in the least. You get to see both Franz and Charlie's life before and after which gave me so much information about the Air Force, lifestyle and thinking of that day.

I realized while reading this how easy it is to come up with a pre-judged idea of one side during a war. I learned so much about the German Air Force that I never knew...they were NOT joined with the SS and one place said many of the German pilots feared Goering more than the Allied pilots. That just barely scratches the service of the details given that I know I will be referencing in the future.

I give this book five stars because of the incredible true story that no fiction reader could create. There was some swear words and taking God's name in vain, as well as a few moments of gory details of the wounds some pilots received. There is some Catholic and other religious statements mentioned. There was a conscious belief in God from both Franz and Charlie.
296 reviews13 followers
December 21, 2021
Audible.com 13 hours 22 min. Narrated by Robertson Dean (A)

Such a fantastic book that reads like fiction but has been thoroughly researched to prove truth can be stranger than fiction. It was incredibly inspiring to read about WW Two from the perspective of German ace pilots. My grandson age 12 is already a WW Two buff. I foresee books by Adam Makos as presents in my grandson's life.
Note: Check the suthor's website for videos of the main characters' reunion.
Profile Image for Jeff Dawson.
Author 28 books90 followers
November 29, 2015
A tribute to all airmen.

An absolutely brilliant work! I cannot say enough of this true World War Two account of Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown. I’ve read many accounts where soldiers from both sides would come to meet one another during a lull in the action. There are countless stories of this occurring in World War I and II. Many of them occur around Christmas when it’s “Good will towards men.”
But none of the stories compare to this one.

Charley’s B-17 has been riddled with bullets, flak and cannon rounds. How the plane is flying defies the law of physics. He has no idea one stabilizer is gone and the majority of his rudder has been shot off. With one finicky engine, since take-off and one flamed out, he and his crew are fighting for their lives.

Enter Luftwaffe ace, Franz Stigler. He has landed and is ready to get back in the fight. If he can stop one “our motor” from dropping its load or stopping it from a repeat mission, he has served the Fatherland.

He rearms, refuels and takes off to defend his country. He comes upon the stricken bomber. Rather than blowing it out of the sky, he is mesmerized by the sight before him. His thoughts turn to a time when as a child he learned about aerodynamics and the forces required to fly. He thinks back to the day he’s informed his brother was shot down and died. With the bomber filling his screen and is seconds from opening up with his guns and cannons to finish the wounded plane, he realizes the tail gunner isn’t firing. Upon closer inspection he sees the man is dead. He removes his finger from the trigger and does something unimaginable—he moves to the left wing and escorts the bomber over Germany and through the toughest concentration of flak batteries protecting Bremen.

Charlie and his crew know they are done when they see the plane. The German pilot keeps making a motion to them they don’t understand.

After a harrowing flight, Charlie nurses his bomber back to England. Franz returns to his base and makes no mention of the “court martial offense” he performed. When Charlie notifies his commander of the mission, he is told to never speak of it again.

I appreciate how the authors wove the stories of the two men in an excellent chronological method. It’s not your typical memoir. The writing puts the reader side-by-side with the two men as their paths slowly, but surely converge on that fateful meeting in 1943 over the war torn skies of Germany.

This isn’t a work of war, it’s a song of common men coming together for a brief moment in time to remind them that valor, bravery and decency are a common denominator.

Do the two men meet years later to discuss that amazing day? For that, you’ll have to read the story.

Five stars
Profile Image for Steven.
12 reviews1 follower
January 11, 2013
I felt this was extremely well written and an incredible story that needed to be told. I had read some reviews that stated they didn't care for how the stories of the 2 different men told in flashback were interspersed but I followed the flow extremely well. The thing that struck me was how my impressions of 2 pilots on different sides of the war had, in reality, a same common enemy that they felt dragged them into battle. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and give it my highest recommendation.
Profile Image for Boudewijn.
634 reviews73 followers
November 24, 2018
A small act of humanity saves many lives. When a German ace pilot refuses to shoot down a damaged B-17 bomber, the German pilot is later re-united with those who he saved.
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 17 books940 followers
June 8, 2021
What an unlikely, incredible story. The end moved me to tears.
222 reviews2 followers
September 1, 2018

In Adam Makos’s A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II, the author relays the tale of two pilots destined to meet from opposite sides of the war. Franz Stigler, a veteran German pilot known for his exploits in the air and one kill away from becoming an ace, sees a badly damaged B-17 and makes a heroic choice. Charlie Brown, the young American of the limping bird, knows that he and his crew are living on borrowed time when the unimaginable happens. The American crew receives an early Christmas gift from the most unlikely of sources.

A Higher Call is an incredible account of gallantry that is nothing short of miraculous. The story is told through the eyes of the two principal pilots and covers their lives before, during, and after the war. A Higher Call is riveting from beginning to end, and both pilots’ points of view are woven seamlessly throughout the book. The majority of the story is told from the German perspective and gives the reader invaluable insight into the Nazis’ fight under Hitler’s leadership and the disillusionment that came toward the end of the war for the German people.

Although it takes time to get to the central incident of the book, A Higher Call is a compelling narrative that demonstrates that decency and honor are still displayed on the battlefield even among enemies. Readers of history and warfare will find A Higher Call an incredible story, and I highly recommend it for its inspirational value.
31 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2014
I obviously had multiple problems with this book. Had it not been written and presented as a true story, but rather as a non-fiction novel ala Capote's "In Cold Blood", I would have had less of a problem. The purple prose recalling minute details of events, scenarios and conversations that supposedly were recalled from memory 50 or 60 years before was just too far beyond credibility.

Admittedly, it is an interesting World War II story from a perspective we rarely get. However, throughout, I was getting the impression that it was the view of a revisionist. It was hard anywhere in the story to find a Nazi, a Nazi supporter or a Nazi sympathizer unless you got up to Goering's level. Apparently no one knew about Kristallnacht or the ensuing holocaust and the extermination of millions, except one comment by a German flier that the Nazi's treatment of the Jews "pisses me off."

I was a pre-teen during the war and rooted for the shooting down of Luftwaffe planes when I read the newspapers and saw newsreels of the day, and found myself doing the same thing as I read this book. Don't forget who started that war and every German plane shot down meant Allied lives saved. One act of bravery or whatever it was didn't save the rest of it for me.

If this were presented as a novel, with all its invented dialogue, based on a true story (as they say in the movies and which it really was), I would give it maybe 3 stars, but no higher because of the quality of the writing.
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