I Lived to Fly
IT IS the late winter of 1960—more exactly, the morning of March 10, 1960. I report to the control tower at Büchel in the Eifel, Germany, asking for landing instructions. Promptly the answer comes: “A.B. 234 clear for landing.” I am then given the runway number and the wind velocity and direction.
I go through the usual motions of decelerating. The earth shoots up toward me. I throttle back, round out, touch down. At the end of the runway I turn around to the parking area. The howling of the jet becomes softer, and finally stops. I loosen my parachute belt, and climb out of the fighter bomber type F-84-F.
This is my last flight. Never again will I take a “stick” in my hand to fly a fighter plane. That was my decision in the late winter of 1960, and it is still one with which I am in agreement.
DEEP LOVE FOR FLYING
When you consider how much I loved flying, you will realize what a difficult decision this was for me. As a child I watched every airplane in the sky with yearning eyes. When I was six or seven years old my parents took my brother and me to an airport near our home in Gleiwitz, Germany. In fascination I watched the planes land and take off. My parents had their hands full trying to get me away from the airport. Flying became my greatest desire.
In 1939, when I was just thirteen years old, the second world war broke out. I was sorry there would not be opportunity for me to distinguish myself as a fighter pilot, for at the time we were all certain the war would end soon. But the war raged longer than expected. I joined the Hitler Youth organization, as almost all young boys were required to do. Opportunity was here open to receive preliminary flight training, and I quickly grabbed it. I learned to fly a glider. My dream, my goal, seemed to be reaching fulfillment. My enthusiasm for flying grew.
With the permission of my parents, at the age of sixteen I volunteered for the German Air Force. I passed all tests, and was called up for officers’ training early in 1944. However, by the time I received my pilot’s license the war was nearing its end. Germany’s famed Luftwaffe had suffered tremendous losses in planes, and I never did have the opportunity to fly a fighter plane in combat. I was taken captive, and ended up at the Munsterlager prisoner-of-war camp.
It appeared that my opportunity to fly was gone forever, since Germany experienced bad times after the war. After returning from the prisoner-of-war camp I went to work in the salt mines in order to receive additional ration stamps for foodstuffs. I had married in 1949, and at least my job enabled me to feed my family. But work in the mines did not satisfy me, not by any means. I still had a consuming desire to fly, and I longingly watched the fast English and American fighter jets zoom overhead. So when hearing the news in 1954 that Germany was to be rearmed, that it was to have an air force again, I was overjoyed.
I seized the opportunity, and applied for the Air Force. I passed the new aptitude tests and flying-fitness tests and was accepted. In June 1956 I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the new German Air Force. Now I learned to fly the modern jet fighters. After completion of my instruction I was promoted to captain, and became a flying teacher and test pilot.
What a vast difference! Previously, I was 600 meters (1,968 feet) under the earth in the mines. Now I was up 15,000 meters (49,212 feet) in the sky. I had attained the goal of my dreams. My future looked rosy. My livelihood seemed secure. Who could pull me down from those heights?
IS THERE A GOD WITH A PURPOSE?
In the meantime my parents had moved from Sachsen in Eastern Germany to the Federal Republic of Germany. While in Sachsen they had begun studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and, in time, accepted the Bible truths that they were learning. After moving to Cochem, not far from where my wife and I lived, they would often visit and talk to us about the wonderful hope for the future that they had come to have. But I just laughed about their ideas of a peaceful new earth. Why?
For one thing, I knew how unrealistic such a prospect appeared to be, since I was in a position to know how heavily the nations were arming themselves with weapons for destruction. Besides, my parents had reared me in the Roman Catholic religion, and I had no intention of changing now. I felt that my father was just getting old, and was simply seeking his salvation through such prophets as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Nevertheless, my parents brought me a Bible, and since they asked me to, I began to read in it. But I must admit that I did not understand one word that I read. At their next visit I gave the Bible back to them with the remark that no sensible human could understand it. I just was not willing to listen to God.
Yet every time my parents and I got together discussions ensued about the Almighty God Jehovah, and about his purposes. They would claim that Jehovah God purposes to create a new order, and that his earthly subjects will be able to enjoy everlasting life in an earth of restored paradisaic beauty. Irritated by one such conversation, I went so far as to say: “The God that can get me away from flying has yet to be born.”
However, my parents were patient. My father especially did not give up showing me logical evidence that there simply had to be an Almighty Creator for our life to have any meaning. I had to admit that it really did seem reasonable that God must have had some purpose in creating us and our earthly home. My wife especially began to be impressed by my father’s arguments. She said to me: “You cannot disprove a thing. What Jehovah’s Witnesses say sounds true and logical.”
I started to wonder: Could this really be the truth? What is the purpose of life?
Slowly I began to see things in a different light. One afternoon we visited my parents again. This time they had arranged for me to listen to a Bible talk that had been recorded on tape. It was a discussion of the ransom. Jehovah’s love and the love of his Son Jesus Christ were especially emphasized. I did not understand the half of it. Nevertheless, the talk had an effect. From that time on I often said in conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses, “If I could only believe all of that.”
One day a special representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. I agreed to have a home Bible study, for I began to see that there was more behind what the Witnesses were saying than I had originally supposed. We started to study the Bible, using the Bible study aid From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. My wife and I soon began to realize that what we were learning was the truth regarding God’s purposes.
I could not take in knowledge fast enough. I read entire volumes of The Watchtower, which the Witnesses brought to me. I also began to pray. Now I understood what I was reading in the Bible. We also realized that we had to do something about it. My wife and I agreed that we should attend the weekly Christian meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A VITAL DECISION
At the time, however, I was still serving in the jet bombing squadron of the German Air Force. But the more I studied the Bible, the clearer it became to me that training to wage war was not proper for me. How could I continue to teach young men to fly fighter bombers when the Bible explains that the people serving God would be taking an entirely opposite course? The Bible says that God’s people in these days would “have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.”—Isa. 2:4.
Furthermore, it seemed to me that belonging to the military was not in keeping with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. For example, he told his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:34, 35.
In view of his teachings, I just could not believe that if Christ were on earth today he would engage in training to fight and kill persons of a different race or nationality. It did not seem reasonable to me that he could do so and still be consistent with his own teachings. And, in time, I learned that many early Christians had felt the same way about it.
For example, I discovered that Christians in the early centuries would not fight in Rome’s imperial armies. One modern historian, Ernest William Barnes in The Rise of Christianity, explained: “A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius, no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”
So such thoughts about living a Christian life had been going through my mind for some time. One night early in 1960 I returned from a flight and was not able to land immediately. The control tower sent me into a holding pattern. It was a beautiful night. Above me were magnificent stars, and beneath was the sea of lights from the cities and villages. I was up 6,000 meters (19,685 feet). Then I prayed to Jehovah and asked him to help me to make the right decision.
Jehovah did help me. After I publicly identified myself with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was called to appear before the commanding officer. Rather than being frightened by this, I was happy for the opportunity to explain to him that I had decided to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
My superiors gave me a vacation for the purpose of reaching a final decision. In order to influence me, I was given a considerable amount of literature written to “expose” Jehovah’s Witnesses. Prayerfully I examined this literature, but it became clear to me that it was written by persons with improper motives who twisted the evidence.
My superior officer also insisted that I visit the Catholic military priest. However, using the Bible, and with the help of the Scripture texts listed in the book “Make Sure of All Things,” I was able to give him a good witness about true Christian living. Afterward I was even more determined to resign from the military.
Confidently I wrote up my resignation. True, my superior, as well as my comrades, doubted my sanity, but I was sure that my decision was pleasing to Jehovah God. So in June 1960 I became a civilian once again.
BLESSED IN MY DECISION TO SERVE GOD
Now a big problem arose for me: How would I earn a living? Would I have to give up flying? Would I be forced to return to work in the mines? All my efforts to get into civilian aviation were to no avail.
I prayed intensely to Jehovah for help. I thought of the Bible text at Malachi 3:10, where Jehovah challenged the Israelites to serve him by giving him what he deserved. If the Israelites did, Jehovah promised that he would then open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing upon them until there would be no more want. This is what has occurred in my case.
Only about two weeks after sending in my resignation, my problem of earning a livelihood was solved in an astonishing way. With the help of some Witnesses, I found a position working for an insurance company. To me, it seemed as though Jehovah was waiting to see the decision I would make, and once I made it in favor of his service, he blessed me richly.
My wife and I dedicated our lives to serve Jehovah God and symbolized our dedication by undergoing water baptism in July 1960. In 1968 my wife began the full-time preaching work, called “pioneering,” and later I joined her in this service. We had fine opportunities to serve in territories where there was a particular need for Kingdom proclaimers. Now I serve as a “circuit overseer,” visiting a different congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses each week to help them in the preaching work.
While it is true that I miss flying, I can honestly say that helping other people to learn the purposes of Jehovah God brings me even greater satisfaction and joy. So rather than living to fly, I now live to do the will of our loving heavenly Father.—Contributed.