We’ll Never Be Enemies Again

“We are now friends. We’ll never be enemies again.” These are the words of WWII fighter pilot Ed Cottrell after his recent visit to Germany to meet German fighter pilot Karl-Heinz Bosse. On Saturday, April 13, The Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas held a well-attended event at Grace Brevard Church to celebrate this meeting. The story begins with Ed’s several trips over recent years to revisit the scenes and memories of his wartime service in Europe during which he flew 65 combat missions. While visiting Bastogne he met historian Paul Oechsner, who later put the two one-time fighter pilots in touch. Both pilots had flown in the Battle of the Bulge. On December 17th, 1944, the second day of that prolonged battle, both flyers had taken off on missions.

Ed’s Mission

Ed’s squadron of P-47s was attacking German Tiger tanks. Pulling out of a bombing run, Ed’s squadron encountered a large group of German Messerschmitt 109 fighters and Ed’s plane was hit by 20mm cannon fire destroying 8 cylinders of its Pratt & Whitney engine, covering the cockpit with oil, and leaving the plane barely chugging along at 120 miles per hour, scarcely enough to prevent it from stalling and falling out of the sky. Two Messerschmitts roared past, turned, and came around behind him, leaving Ed waiting for the bullets, thinking of his wife Millie, whose photo he always carried, and saying his goodbye. But the two German planes pulled alongside and proceeded to escort him back to the Allied front lines, giving him the OK hand signal as they then peeled off. Why? Ed guesses they felt it unfair to attack a defenseless foe. Ed found his way back to the airfield with the engine finally quitting on approach to the runway, requiring him to make a dead stick landing.

Karl’s Mission

Meanwhile, Karl, who was in fact flying a Messerschmitt 109, was on a mission to attack allied planes. Karl, who is 3 years younger than Ed, was just 19 and this was only his fifth mission. Like Ed’s, his plane was hit by enemy fire, but unlike Ed’s, could no longer fly. Karl was unable to bail out normally and had to turn his plane sideways, literally dumping him out successfully but badly damaging his leg in the process. On the ground he was taken prisoner by Allied forces and had a long healing. Today at 99 the leg has given out and he can no longer walk.

Meeting as Friends

Once Paul had connected the two pilots they visited over a Zoom call, talking about their lives and families. Then last December, 79 years after the shared day of their fateful missions, Ed made the trip to Germany so they could meet in person. While sharing their stories of that day, they visited the field where Karl’s plane had crashed. As Karl had not been away from his nursing home in five years, it was an extra special outing. And so days of war and enmity did yield to peace and a new friendship for two wise and long-lived warriors.

Honoring Our Hero

At Saturday’s event, after Lt. Col. Ed Cottrell, USAF, (retired), who is 102 years of age, had stood arrow straight, delivering a flawless 30-minute talk without notes, he was duly honored by the state of North Carolina. First, North Carolina Representative Mike Clampitt presented a U.S. flag flown over the North Carolina capital, along with a tribute from North Carolina’s citizens.

Lisa Wiggins, Veterans Affairs Representative for U.S. Congressman Chuck Edwards, presented an additional flag and tribute. She also presented, and read, a framed copy of remarks Congressman Edwards had read into the U.S. Congressional record for April 12th, 2024. In these remarks, Congressman Edwards recounted the story of Lt. Col. Cottrell’s mission of December 17th, as well as other elements of his wartime service and remarkable life, including the choice to celebrate his 100th birthday by skydiving out of an airplane.


ed cottrell speaking at event

Lt. Col. Ed Cottrell, USAF

chuck edwards staffer presents honors to ed cottrell

Lisa Wiggins, Veterans Affairs Representative for U.S. Congressman Chuck Edwards with Ed Cottrell

ed cottrell being thanked

North Carolina Representative Mike Clampitt with Ed Cottrell

The Art of Valor

Following these presentations, Brevard Mayor Maureen Copelof and Veterans History Museum president David Morrow unveiled the Valor Studios print commemorating Ed Cottrell’s flight limping home escorted by two German M-109s (top photo). Valor Studios is based in Venice, Florida, and specializes in telling the story of wartime valor in original art. A signed copy of the print donated by O.P. Taylor’s was auctioned off to raise funds for the Veterans History Museum. During the silent auction, the good-sized crowd was treated to a generous and exquisite buffet.

A Very Special Question

During the Q&A after Ed’s talk one question, and his answer, were particularly striking. Ed was asked about how he shared his wartime stories with his wife and children. He responded that he did not. That neither he nor his wartime compatriots were inclined to talk about the war, preferring to forget it and move on. That began changing some 15 years ago at a squadron reunion as the talk turned to how younger folks increasingly did not know this important chapter, had lost sight of the greater purpose that bound the country, bringing forth sacrifice and compassion all those many years ago. Simply put, freedom isn’t free; we must pay the price to keep it. So, like many surviving WWII veterans, Ed has dedicated himself to talking with younger generations whenever asked, because he thinks it is important. And it is. Michelle Taylor attended the museum’s event with her sons Charlie and David and commented: “We are so lucky and honored here to have this resource for our sons. They can hear history from people like Ed Cottrell who made that history. I want my sons to know these things.” And Ed, well, he will soon be off to Europe to participate in celebrations for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, and no doubt return with more stories to tell.