A 101-year-old American fighter pilot has met a 98-year-old German airman 79 years after they were both shot at on the same day during World War II.
Ed Cottrell, from Hendersonville in North Carolina, met with Karl-Heinz Bosse, from Thuringia in Germany and together they visited the crash site near Bastnach in Belgium where the German was shot down by US planes on 17th December 1944 and the American’s aircraft was seriously damaged.
The footage shows the former enemies meeting and shaking hands, with Cottrell heard saying: “We are real good friends now.”
Cottrell, who was 22 in 1944, was piloting a plane that was hit just a few miles away on the same day, above the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.
Bosse was flying a Messerschmitt Me 109 at the time while Lieutenant Cottrell had been in charge of a P47 Thunderbolt.
The American pilot, whose job it was to hunt German tanks on the ground, recalled how he was targeted by German pilots: “I saw one of these Messerschmitts turning in my direction, then I saw the 20-millimetre cannon flashing and suddenly everything exploded.
“Pitch-black oil slammed against my windshield. I couldn’t see anything anymore.”
The American pilot told how his plane was damaged and had poor visibility, with his only hope being to return to the Belgian airfield he had taken off from.
Cottrell was being targeted by two German planes and was easy pickings. But surprisingly, the American told how not only did the German pilots let his plane go, they even escorted him.
He said: “Two enemy planes took me in the middle and flew west next to me. They could have easily shot me down.”
He added that the two German aircraft then turned away as their pilots saluted the American.
He eventually managed to land at an airfield, saying: “When I got out of that plane, I kissed the ground because I was a very fortunate person. I could’ve been shot down. The engine could’ve quit. A lot of things could’ve happened. But I came out the best anyone could have under that situation.”
Bosse, then 19, a few miles away, was fighting Cottrell’s comrades in his Messerschmitt 109 G14.
His mission was to attack enemy bombers and fighter planes and target ground troops, but he was shot down.
He survived after ditching the aircraft and deploying his parachute.
Bosse said: “I came out with a parachute and was lucky.”
Now Bosse and Cottrell have met near the crash site near the Belgian town of Bastnach thanks to an initiative launched by US author Andy Biggio, 33, who has written about World War II stories such as Cottrell’s and Bosse’s in his bestseller ‘The Rifle’.
Biggio now helps veterans in the USA return to Europe, with volunteer helpers from Thuringia making it possible for Bosse to go on the trip to the crash site too and meet his former foe.
Cottrell, upon meeting Bosse, said: “You look good.”
And Bosse reportedly said: “And you look much younger.”
The Battle of the Bulge was a last-ditch attempt by Nazi Fuhrer Adolf Hitler to turn the tide of the war to his advantage.
It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the USA in the war and resulted in nearly 100,000 casualties on both sides.
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