50: A Christmas Miracle

50: A Christmas Miracle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

A Christmas Miracle

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

~Dalai Lama

During World War II, my father served as a gunner and then as a copilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress, based out of England. On what was to become his last mission as a copilot, he and his crew were to drop several huge bales of anti-Hitler leaflets over Stuttgart, Germany, and then return to base.

Unfortunately, after dropping the bales on the city, my dad’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft guns and so badly damaged it was unable to continue flying. The captain and my dad were able to make an emergency landing in the forest. While the plane was totaled, the crew survived the crash, although the engineer and the gunner had been badly hurt and were unable to walk. The captain decided his first priority was the health and safety of his men, and stated that they would try and make it to Switzerland where they could get medical help for the two wounded men.

It was winter, and in addition to being cold, a lot of snow was on the ground. The captain and my father had the men strip the plane for anything remotely useful and then make a sled for the injured men from the hatch door. The crew would take turns pulling the sled. When not pulling, they would be on the lookout for German patrols.

After two days of sneaking through the German countryside, the injured men were in a bad way. The Captain and crew decided that allowing themselves to be captured and sent to a POW camp was the only way they could get help for the injured men.

The next day, the crew came across a German patrol. My dad and the captain ordered their men to drop their weapons and surrender to the Germans, and that’s when the unexpected happened: The German patrol simultaneously tried to surrender to them. My dad said it was amusing and scary at the same time, as they and the Germans were all standing there with their hands in the air trying to surrender to each other.

The captain, the navigator and my dad all spoke a little French and a few words of German. The commander of the German unit — there were five German soliders — also spoke a little French. Using French and some German, the German commander (named Fritz), the captain, the navigator and my dad worked out a truce and a plan.

It was about five days until Christmas, and they were still probably a hundred miles from the Swiss border. The Germans had not been supplied with food, warm clothes or even ammo in a very long time. They were cold, hungry and sick. Having been forced to fight for a cause they didn’t believe in (two were originally from Austria), they had decided it was time to desert. Fritz, wanting to save his men from freezing and starving to death, had decided they would surrender to the first Americans they saw and sit out the rest of the war in a British POW camp.

The men worked out a plan. If they came upon more Germans, Fritz would pretend that the crew from the B-17 were his prisoners, and that he was on his way to turn them in. If the group came upon an Allied patrol, the captain and my dad would ensure that Fritz and his men weren’t harmed, and that they made it safely to an Allied POW camp.

The group of men spent the next five days walking together through the countryside. As the days passed, the B-17 crew and the Germans ended up becoming friends and helping each other survive.

Thanks to the navigator’s skill, they made it across the border into Switzerland on Christmas Day. The captain and my dad escorted Fritz and his men to a British unit, and saw that they were safely turned in and given food and medical help. The captain and my dad later vouched for Fritz and his men, who were sent to a British POW camp. My dad was permanently grounded after suffering a back injury in the crash, and he and the other members of the B-17 crew maintained their friendship with Fritz and the others, visiting them whenever possible in the POW camp.

After the war, my dad, Fritz, and several of the men on both sides maintained a lifelong friendship, often visiting each other. When my dad told his preacher father what had happened, he said it was a Christmas miracle. The B-17 crew had survived being shot at and then a plane crash. Somehow, they had not been tracked or followed by the Germans, and had run into Fritz and his unit who were hoping to meet some Americans. They had not shot each other, and as a group they all made it alive into Switzerland. And all of them survived a German winter with almost no food, medicine, or clothes. Perhaps it was a miracle after all.

~Leslee Kahler

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