Once, when a Union officer mortally wounded a Confederate captain during the Civil War, the Union man sang hymns and prayed with his enemy as the man took his last breaths. Before the captain died, he asked the Union officer to return his sword and revolver to his family -- a request the soldier honored after the war ended, Rolph says.
"I even have an article from The New York Times in 1886 where Union soldiers who were on the pension rolls of the federal government were actually trying to transfer their money toward Confederate soldiers," Rolph says.
These bonds can even form between enemies who do not share a language or a culture.
Harold Moore Jr. was a U.S. Army colonel who led a desperate fight depicted in the 2002 Mel Gibson film, "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young. " In 1965, Moore lost 79 of his men fighting against a larger North Vietnamese force. It was one of the first major battles in the Vietnam War.
In 1993, Moore led some of his soldiers back to Vietnam to meet their former adversaries on the same battlefield. When they arrived, Moore met the Vietnamese officer who led troops against him, Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An.
An held out his arms and greeted Moore by kissing him on both cheeks. Moore gave him his wristwatch as a token of friendship.
Moore described in an essay what happened next:
"I invited all to form a circle with arms extended around each other's shoulders and we bowed our heads. With prayer and tears, we openly shared our painful memories."
An died two years after meeting Moore. Moore traveled to Vietnam to pay his respects to his former enemy's family. While visiting their home, Moore spotted a familiar object displayed in the viewing case of An's family shrine: It was his wristwatch.
A reunion of enemies
As he watched the German fighter peel away that December day, 2nd Lt. Charles Brown wasn't thinking of the philosophical connection between enemies. He was thinking of survival.
He flew back to his base in England and landed with barely any fuel left. After his bomber came to a stop, he leaned back in his chair and put a hand over a pocket Bible he kept in his flight jacket. Then he sat in silence.
Brown flew more missions before the war ended. Life moved on. He got married, had two daughters, supervised foreign aid for the U.S. State Department during the Vietnam War and eventually retired to Florida.
Late in life, though, the encounter with the German pilot began to gnaw at him. He started having nightmares, but in his dream there would be no act of mercy. He would awaken just before his bomber crashed.
Brown took on a new mission. He had to find that German pilot. Who was he? Why did he save my life?
He scoured military archives in the U.S. and England. He attended a pilots' reunion and shared his story. He finally placed an ad in a German newsletter for former Luftwaffe pilots, retelling the story and asking if anyone knew the pilot.
On January 18, 1990, Brown received a letter. He opened it and read:
"Dear Charles, All these years I wondered what happened to the B-17, did she make it or not?"
It was Stigler. He had had left Germany after the war and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1953. He became a prosperous businessman. Now retired, Stigler told Brown that he would be in Florida come summer and "it sure would be nice to talk about our encounter."
Brown was so excited, though, that he couldn't wait to see Stigler. He called directory assistance for Vancouver and asked whether there was a number for a Franz Stigler. He dialed the number, and Stigler picked up.