A HIGHER CALL: Montoursville native pens “amazing” tale of World War II aviation
One reason book-lovers are hooked on reading is that books can take you through experiences that aren’t accessible in any other way.
My chances of flying a World War II bomber, for example, are slender at best; yet in an intoxicating passage of nearly 10 pages, Adam Makos’ “Higher Call” makes us feel exactly what it was like to fire up a B-17 and take off on a run over Germany.
That’s only one aspect of this sensational book; placed instantly on my list of all-time favorites, it’s the kind of book you want to buy for all your friends; I’m surprised it hasn’t hit the best-seller lists yet.
Penned by Montoursville native Adam Makos -- co-founder of the beloved “Ghost Wings” magazine for combat aviation buffs -- “A Higher Call” focuses on a real-life incident that simply defies belief.
On Dec. 20, 1943, a lone B-17 was struggling home over hostile territory when it encountered a Messerschmitt fighter.
Piloted by a veteran needing one more victory for the coveted Knight’s Cross, the infamous German plane would normally have made fast work of its helpless prey -- particularly since most of the bomber’s guns were frozen, the crew shot up and the plane so full of holes it could barely stay aloft.
But German ace Franz Stigler, steeped in the chivalric code of pilots round the world, could not bring himself to fire on the badly damaged B-17; instead, he flew alongside and -- gesturing to the terrified crew -- tried to persuade them to head for safety in Sweden.
When this failed, Stigler made a decision that could have cost him his life.
I’m not revealing more about this encounter because it’s the centerpiece of this amazing book, even though it lasts for only one chapter.
I will say, however, that Makos has surrounded the gripping incident with the equally gripping tale of Stigler’s storied career as a German fighter pilot -- including these highlights:
Ditching his plane in the Mediterranean with its canopy closed.
Cavorting with his squadron’s mascot, a friendly bear named Bobbi with a fondness for swimming pools and German beer.
Flying the world’s most advanced aircraft -- the Messerschmitt 262, a jet that could reach 575 miles per hour but was notoriously unstable. (During one sudden dive from 30,000 feet, Stigler finally pulled out so close to the ground that he set the fields on fire.)
A late development by the struggling Nazi war machine, the 262 had a cockpit surrounded by kerosene fuel tanks; after a violent crash, one of Stigler’s comrades was so engulfed in flames that his eyelids burned off and his fingers fused together -- yet he survived.
“Higher Call” also recounts -- albeit more briefly -- background on the American bomber crew, particularly its 21-year-old pilot, Charlie Brown.
There’s so much packed into this book -- including material about the Third Reich and life under its regime -- that the project took Makos and co-writer Larry Alexander eight years to complete.
Despite its many high points, “Call” manages a peak of emotional power during the climax: In 1990, Brown and Stigler actually tracked each other down -- even though neither had a name or number from the other’s plane.
When the men finally embrace, and former enemies discover that they feel more like brothers -- well, they weren’t the only ones with tears in their eyes.
In fact, “Call” had me choked up several times -- and other readers said so too; as I write, it has 292 five-star reviews at Amazon.com.
Consider this the 293rd.