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

A Higher Call: Of Dubious History
Robert Huddleston Robert Mar 17, 2013 11:05AM
My reaction to A Higher Call is quite different than most readers. As to be expected: I served as a fighter pilot in the European air war against the German Luftwaffe. And I assure readers, had this book been published twenty years earlier, many American veterans would have risen in rightful wrath. With most having passed on, including fellow pilots lost in battle, I now presume to speak for all as both veteran and student of the air war.

A Higher Call is Leunant Franz Stigler’s story as he recalled it to the two authors. That alone demand a skeptical reading. In his excellent study, Fictions in Autobiography, Paul John Eakin counsels: “The materials of the past are shaped by memory and imagination to serve the needs of the present.” Most of the narrative in the book stems from Stigler’s “memory” with some “imagination” added by the Germans as well as by the biographer, Larry Alexander. Simply put, Stigler’s story is self-serving and readers ought to discount much of it. (Prime example: Stigler received his “higher call” on what would have been his 23rd “victory.” Yet, that was followed by his destroying 23 Allied aircraft sans another “higher call.” Could that event on 20 September1943 been the result of having expended his ammunition? I wonder!)

Here is my brief from A Higher Call: The focus of Stigler’s story, as he tells it and what is told about him, is that the moral compass of German pilots was superior to that of American pilots. And in the telling, he enhances the moral character of the Germans while denigrating Americans with examples both silly and serious: Luftwaffe fighter pilots claim a “victory” upon destroying an enemy aircraft, Army Air Force pilots claim a “kill.” And the most silly credited to the head of the German fighter command: “Americans would strafe a stray dog if they could.” More serious: Germans were ordered not to fire on a parachuting enemy; Americans were “known” to kill the helpless airman, even to strafe those landing on the ground. Perhaps there were such incidents on both sides but I hold they would have been exceptions, not an accepted practice. Stigler’s intended message is that the German pilots were the “good guys” while the American pilots not quite as good.

A Higher Call undeservedly glorifies the German fighter pilots who served their Fueher as he invaded, conquered, and enslaved all who came within reach of his military might. Too bad this reality is being forgotten. Are there any readers about who agree?

I think you may have missed the point of Stigler's "Higher Call"--you do not shoot down a wounded duck that cannot fight back. This had been the mantra of many of his mentors earlier in service, along with his views as a professional soldier. I understand your views towards the book based upon your experiences in the ETO, but I will put more weight in the accepting relationship between Franz Stigler, Charlie Brown and surviving crew members of Ye Olde Pub, along with members of the 379th Bomber Group that accepted Stigler into their organization.

Lately I have read many stories about WWII and have come to the belief that the German people suffered terribly because of their terrible leaders. More than half of the German people were not party members, and many were only to be able to hold a job and not starve. it is so easy for those of us in America who have never experienced the horrors of war on our shored to look at Germany and compare it with Nazism. I have read enough to know that the people suffered much more, especially after the war when so many did not have enough to eat, no jobs, many were living off the streets and yes, many starver to death. I am well aware of the Holocaust, it was one of the most horrible if hot the most horrible things to ever happen. But to blame a whole nation for the actions of less than half the country is also wrong. Yes, it is terrible than many escaped, like Mengele and others. But I firmly believe they will stand before God one day and pay for their crimes. It is terrible tragic that people called Franz a "Nazi" 45 years after the war when he never was a party member as most of the Wehrmacht(ground soldiers) were not.

After reading these comments it's hard to know what to make of Franz Stigler. Is he a heroic figure, or is he a self-serving killer? Sometimes the writing style in this book seemed a bit simplistic -- human motivations of these pilots were undoubtedly more complicated. However, there's one thing for certain -- the heirs of the B-17 crewmen owe their existence on this earth to Franz Stigler. Even if he could not have fired upon Ye Old Pub, didn't he keep the flak gunners at bay by flying so close as they passed over the coast?

The author of A Higher Call suffered from an inadequate editor at his publishing house. There's quite a jump from being an editor of a fanzine on WW2 to authoring a bio on a Luftwaffe fighter pilot. The use of the phrase "He knew.." hundreds of times in the text is a bad mistake.

As far as the author being led astray by an aging pilot wanting to make himself look good, it's a valid point. Stigler's a bit lost in time; the events of his youth were so extreme that everything that came after couldn't compare to it, and all his efforts were in vain. His nation lost the war, and they were in the wrong. He had to live with the idea of fighting for the wrong side. It couldn't have been easy or comfortable for him to live up to that truth as he recounted his tale for the impressionable author.

Ray: I don’t see it as a case of “all Germans (Of the Third Reich) being lumped together...” but that so many truly bad ones escaped being held accountable. As the great war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn, reported as she followed Allied troops entering Germany, every German she encountered professed to be “anti-Nazi.” When one serves a leader as evil as Hitler it requires hundreds of functionaries to operate a system of eliminating all Jews from Germany and the territory they conquered. It also applies to finding and exploiting an estimated 6 million slave laborers. A prime example being the most deadly concentration camp in German, Dora ( where 20 thousand died from starvation, disease, beatings and executions). In the last weeks of the war, 2 thousand slave laborers worked along side over 3 thousand skilled German workers to produce the V2 rockets. The Production Manager, Arthur Rudolf, was a ardent Nazi personally involved in the selection, supervision, and execution of slave labor. Nonetheless, he was selected by Dr. Werner von Braun as part of his “rocket team” and became a U.S. citizen. A young Luftwaffe officer [who became a Yale professor], sent to the V2 plant to procure records, describes the horrible treatment of the slaves in his memoir. Because of what he had learned, he chose not to join Von Braun’s “team.”

Now the issue of the Luftwaffe fighter pilots: Too often forgotten is that Hitler’s Luftwaffe had no heavy long-range bombers; it was a “tactical” air force produced to assist the ground forces as they invaded, conquered, and occupied much of Europe and North Africa. And in the course of that responsibility, in was SOP for German fighters to bomb and strafe civilian refugees to create panic thus impeding forces moving up to engage the Werhmacht. As I’ve said, when you serve an evil leader, you must do evil things. Later, as the Allied strategic bombers hit German cities, Hitler turned those tactical fighter into interceptors--which was a great call for Allied ground forces!

Respectfully offered.

Ray (last edited Jul 31, 2013 03:27AM ) Jul 31, 2013 03:27AM   0 votes
I'm always amazed at the energy we continue to put into demonizing the Germans. I jokingly refer to the History Channel as the Hitler Channel - only half jokingly. I asked a student recently if he thought Hitler was obviously evil to the people who elected him. He said YES! My concern is that by forgetting that Hitler was human, elected by people who only wanted the best for their country, we forget that such leaders are possible even from within our democracy. Any book that serves to humanize the enemy reminds us that we are all human and that we should be careful who we support and who we believe. Stigler's account may be self serving, but it reminds us that there were human beings on both sides of the conflict - not a bad thing after more than 60 years of all Germans being lumped together and painted as NAZI storm troopers.

All I know is that when I was growing up, my father worked with a German man in a manufacturing plant for over twenty odd years named Kris (last name I withhold). My father was in the Submarine Service of the U.S. Navy and Kris flew Messerschmidts for Germany during "the Big One" . One day I went to Kris' house with my father to pick up a TV set when I was a teenager. This was in 1973. He was a real friendly guy and my father said to Kris "show him your photos Kris" Kris showed me a small photo albums of the planes he flew in the war and then he took out a separate one. It was a picture of him shaking hands with Adolph Hitler after receiving a medal, I presumed. I said "wow' and didn't know what else to say because , frankly I thought it was shocking , although pretty impressive to a kid my age in the post Vietnam era with my peace sign patches on my coat and long hair. He suddenly made me nervous! What's my father doing hanging around with this guy? I was raised on countless WWII films and "Hogan's Heroes" that rarely humanized the Germans. Kris sensed my uneasiness (I'm sure it wasn't the first time) and said "You must remember Mark, that I and many of my comrades hated the Nazi Party. We were flyers who served our country , the fatherland. Hitler was wrong! Please don't be impressed by medals and this lunatic! You father served the United States and the United States is the greatest country going. Don't you forget it.! People did what they had to do on both sides. The Nazis were bullshit!" My father was looking deeply at me and I could tell he wanted me to understand. I so wish both of them were alive now but also especially to ask Kris questions about his service and loan him the book just to get his take on it. So I do agree with those who have said in their comments (especially Robert's who knows better than anyone here obviously ) that Stigler's story may be self serving and laced with some incredible tales that should be taken with a grain of salt. In fact a couple of times while reading I thought to myself in places, "I've heard this story so many times" ( one even told by my father in law who was an infantryman for the U.S. Army in Italy and Germany) but thats what makes for a great "story" isn't it? As long as the facts are not wrong then you have to be able to use your own intellect as a reader to separate the wheat from the chaffe (sorry for the cliches!). I've read hundreds of WWI and WWII books and I would definitely recommend this book and to Robert I say God Bless you sir and thank you for your service. You are too close to the story because you are a part of it. Its almost impossible for someone to not " get it wrong" somewhere or somehow because your experience is unique to a group of fighters who were pilots. I would just like to add that my father in law and his friend Harry thought the German people (not the Nazis) to be the best and the French and Italians "the worst" -for whatever reason. Sorry Frenchmen and Italians its just an illustration. Also, my buddy Brad's father flew a B-17 and was wounded and captured by the Germans in France . He spent over a year in a P.O.W. camp and he hates them all so ...there you have it. I liked the fact that the book further illustrated what we already knew about Goering and brought him into sharp focus as the tyrannical thug that he truly displayed at his meeting with the the German Air Force officers near the end of the book. Very personal and disturbing. Great book although I agree with whoever pointed it out that the editing could have been better. I give it 4 stars

Michael Mark, I have an older friend that flew with b-17s in the 8th Air Force over Germany from day one. He has the greatest respect for them, and can vouch ...more
Feb 02, 2017 03:35PM · flag
Mark Thanks Michael! I appreciate your kind comments and your friend just turned 100! Must have led a good life! Thank you for your service! Have a great d ...more
Feb 06, 2017 01:49PM · flag

Thanks for all the comments. I am just starting the book and your perspectives are helpful in my understanding it.

I didn't particularly get that from the book, maybe a little here and there. Didn't care for the writing style or the way it was put together at all, though.

back to top