2012-12-28 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

Sometimes It’s Pretty Tough To Do Good
Commentary By Peter Stubben

On Monday evening October 29th savage sandy devastated Rockaway. The surf broke the beach and boardwalk; the enormous surge swallowed the peninsula from beach-front to the bay, and then the fire - like bolts of damnation from Zeus - consumed whole blocks on the Peninsula and - shockingly - devoured an entire Breezy Point neighborhood.

Miraculously, despite the devastatingly emotional, psychic and mindbending property damage, few per-ished. From the Reuther apartments on the east end to the western compounds of Breezy only seven poor souls died. In large part that was testament to the heroics of neighbor-toneighbor assistance and dauntless, heartfelt cooperation...amidst chaos and fear.

Sixty-nine years ago, the Monday evening of December 20, 1943 was likewise stormy. Luftwaffen fighter pilot Franz Stigler descended out of the clouds on an American B-17 that was engaged in the bombing of Bre-men. The B-17 was piloted by Charles Brown and it was his maiden WWII combat mission. Stigler saw the tail, fuselage and one wing of the American bomber to be so badly damaged that it was a sitting duck to win his 23rd kill. Stigler, however, immediately maneuvered horizontal to the American bomber, saluted Brown and led the bomber out into the North Sea so the Americans could return safely to base. The German Wehrmacht were especially proud of their Luftwaffe and U-Boats to pro-ject Nazi rage far beyond Germany's borders, and only the best served as pilots and commanders. As a com-mercial pilot before the war, Stigler became a flight instructor for the air-corps and only enlisted as a fighter pilot after one of his trainees - his younger brother - was killed in combat and then he sought retribution! However. grabbing the rosary beads he always kept with him during his combat missions, Stigler could not bring himself that night at the helm of his Messerschmidt 109 to shoot down a defenseless aircraft; so, after guiding the 'Ye Olde Pub' to safe passage, Ziegler NEVER spoke to that night, ever!

Naturally, had the high command ever found out he would have been blindfolded, shot and buried in an unmarked grave. Stigler kept silent for 50 years until he saw an advertisement in some flight magazine that Charlie Brown would really like to find the German fighter pilot who saved his life on that fateful night. He responded to Brown and they became blood brothers, speaking to groups all around the world. Not without controversy though. Many Germans respected what he'd done but some rebuked him forcefully. You see that B-17 was repaired and went back into service as did 2nd Lieutenant Brown and his crew of nine for the rest of the war, and many Germans who had lost brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers complained bitterly. The two men died in 2008, months apart, and Adam Makos has just penned their memoir 'A Higher Call'.

Amidst darkness, death and devastation, good always percolates to the top. I hope you, and our beautiful Rockaway Peninsula, have a good 2013.

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