Owen J. Baggett pulled out his service pistol, a Colt.45, at the perfect moment. He fired four shots, striking the Japanese pilot in the head and bringing the Zero down
The initial B-24 Liberator prototype was created in 1938 by Consolidated Aircraft, a Lockheed Martin legacy company. It was intended to outperform the US Army Air Corps’ B-17 Flying Fortress in terms of speed and payload capacity. Eventually, the B-24 would have a long, tapered wing on top of its fuselage, enabling remarkable long-range cruising performance. A B-24 was faster than a B-17 and could carry a 5,000-pound bomb load for 1,700 miles at 290 miles per hour, so it was able to carry a bigger payload and had a longer range than its cousin.
B-24s served in every theater of the conflict, from Africa to Germany and India to the Pacific Islands, despite being retired at the end of the war.
On March 31, 1943, the 9th Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bomb Group (BG) was dispatched to Pandaveswar (northwest of Calcutta) to demolish a railroad bridge at Pyinmana, which is located close to two enemy fighter sites and roughly midway between Mandalay and Rangoon. The formation was led by Col. Conrad F. Necrason, 7th BG commander. First Lieutenant Lloyd Jensen piloted the B-24 on his right wing, with Second Lieutenant Owen J. Baggett serving as copilot. Baggett was going to achieve what is thought to be the only distinction in Air Force history on that mission.
Zero fighters attacked the B-24s before they could reach their target. The crew of Baggett’s aircraft had to bail out after it was struck in the fuel tanks and caught fire. The Zeroes attacked again as they descended with parachutes, killing two crew members and injuring Baggett’s left arm.
Pretending to be dead, Baggett observed as a curious Zero pilot neared him, executing a remarkable feat of aerial maneuvering to obtain a more intimate view of the wounded American. The Zero crashed when Baggett pulled out his service pistol, a Colt.45, and fired four rounds, striking the Japanese pilot in the head.
After being taken prisoner, Baggett was greeted and treated like a hero by the Japanese camp commander, a colonel, who was impressed by his skillful shooting at the Zero. This exemplifies the strange Bushido code of the Japanese military, which gave honor and bravery in combat a high priority.
Following the war, Baggett went back to the US and established himself in Texas, living a quiet existence with his family. At the age of 85, he passed away in 2006. Baggett’s heroism in using his Colt.45 to fire down a Japanese Zero while hanging from an open parachute will go on in history as a testament to his bravery and tenacity.
Both Air & Space Force magazine and National Public Radio have deemed Baggett’s feat to be genuine.
Photo by Unknown