“It’s probably the best book I’ve ever read,” my dad told me.
“It’s really, really good,” my brother Phil confirmed.
Though I’d purchased the World War II aviation story for both my dad and brother after being drawn to its intriguing dust jacket at Barnes and Noble, I’d not yet found the chance to read it for myself. However, once I opened its pages, I understood exactly what they were talking about.
A Higher Call by Adam Makos tells of a kind of heroics we don’t often get to hear about in the 21st century. It’s a story of chivalrous behavior between men who are mortal enemies.
The following is from the book’s blurb:
“December, 1943: A badly damaged American bomber struggles to fly over wartime Germany. At the controls is twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Half his crew lay wounded or dead on this, their first mission. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt fighter pulls up on the bomber’s tail. The pilot is German ace Franz Stigler—and he can destroy the young American crew with 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.
“The U.S. 8th Air Force would later classify what happened between them as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention for fear of facing a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search the world for each other, a last mission that could change their lives forever.”
While the climax of A Higher Call is the suspenseful encounter between the desperate American bomber crew and the German ace, the book is about much more than that, as it carefully traces the paths of the two pilots which led to their dramatic meeting in the skies over war-torn Europe.
There are a couple of important morals that stand out in this masterfully written story.
The secondary moral, which I will address first, is that there were good people on the German side of World War II. As Americans, we tend to forget this, as we prefer to see ourselves as having been the unquestioned heroes of the war, fighting against pure evil. We don’t like to be reminded that much of the Nazis’ wicked, eugenic philosophy originated in the United States and was even defended by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell.
By contrast, there were many Germans, including those serving in the armed forces, who despised Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist regime and blamed the Nazis for Germany’s unfolding destruction and for the appalling suffering of the German people. The majority of Germans voted against Hitler in the election of 1932, yet the popular support he did have enabled him to rise to power anyway and then drag his country into war.
Once in control, the Nazis ruled Germany with an iron fist and would brook no dissent. Among the stories Makos relates is that of a widowed wife of a German soldier who was executed because she told a joke about Hitler to her fellow factory workers.
In an oppressive environment like this, men like Franz Stigler fought not for the hated Nazi regime and its dreaded SS enforcers, but rather for their families and friends who lived in ever-increasing squalor in the bombed-out cities below the German skies.
Against this rather dramatic historical backdrop, Makos paints a play-by-play picture of Stigler’s noble decision to spare the lives of his defenseless enemies, even at grave risk to his own. It’s in this act that we find the primary moral of the book.
As the reader will discover, Stigler had every reason to shoot down the wounded American bomber plane and no practical reason whatsoever to spare it. Despite this, in that adrenaline-fueled moment over his devastated homeland, he decided to put aside his desire for personal glory and chose instead to answer a higher call.