They do say that truth is stranger than fiction, and that statement definitely applies to the case of Owen Baggett, who disabled an enemy aircraft with a single handgun bullet while falling through the sky. He had just evacuated his B-24 bomber, which was shot down by enemy fire during a sortie to Burma (Myanmar) during World War II. Here is the story of the man behind this incredible feat, which hasn’t been replicated in the time before or since.
Born in the Lone Star State of Texas in 1920, Baggett graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene before making his way to New York City to start a job at an investment securities firms. Just a short while after he started, he volunteered to join the US Army Air Corps, and began his flight training shortly after.
Upon completion of his training, Baggett was deployed to India, more specifically to a town close to the border with Japanese-occupied Burma. He became a B-24 heavy bomber pilot, and began flying sorties to assist in defending Allied supply routes between India and China.
Baggett’s Day of Reckoning
On March 31st, 1943, Baggett took off in his B-24 (pictured above) with his co-pilot, on a mission to destroy a small railroad bridge near Pyinmana, Burma. The mission was risky, as the bomber squadron that Baggett was flying with was unescorted. A 24-strong swarm of Japanese fighter pilots in fearsome Mitsubishi Zeros surrounded the American bombers and began to fire at them. Perhaps inevitably, Baggett’s bomber took on sufficient damage to warrant the crew having to bail out.
Not content with destroying several of the bombers, the Japanese fighter pilots then began to fire at the Americans, now parachuting to earth following the destruction of their aircraft. Four of Baggett’s crew members were killed, but he survived by playing dead (he made himself appear limp in his parachute’s harness).
A solitary Mitsubishi Zero moved past him slowly, as its pilot looked on to see if Baggett was really dead. Seizing the moment, Baggett pulled out his handgun, took aim at the pilot and fired at him four times. The airplane stalled, and began to fall out of the sky.
Following the conclusion of the incident, Baggett couldn’t recall what happened to the pilot he shot at, and this was because he was preoccupied with the wellbeing of the other three survivors from his stricken bomber.
He was captured by the Japanese and taken as a prisoner of war, along with another two of his comrades. He was offered the opportunity to die with honor by committing ritual suicide by Major General Arimura, who was the commander of the Japanese POW camps in Southeast Asia.
While still a prisoner of war, Baggett encountered one of his comrades, Colonel Harry Melton, who told him what he had witnessed. He said that in all probability, he had shot and killed the enemy pilot, because the Mitsubishi Zero (pictured below) he was flying stalled at 4,000 feet and plummeted to the ground. That altitude theoretically should have given the Japanese pilot enough time to restart the engine and pull out of the stall prior to crashing. Although Baggett was doubtful of what he had accomplished at first, the evidence clearly pointed to him disabling the fighter plane with just his handgun.
What Happened After
Owen Baggett was imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp for the rest of the war. During that time, his weight halved – from 180 pounds to a frightening 90 pounds. He was liberated by the US Office of Strategic Services at the end of the war in 1945. Many years of military service ensued, and the heroic bomber pilot reached the rank of Colonel. Sadly, the US Military never officially recognized his incredible feat. Owen J. Baggett passed away on July 27th 2006 at the age of 85.
Content and Image Source (unless otherwise stated): Boggling Facts