Pistol Vs. Plane: How One Airman Landed The Ultimate Takedown

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This story comes out of WWII. It is so improbable a happening that, if you are like me, you might be a bit skeptical as to its veracity, but it really happened. It is about a B-24 co-pilot, Owen John Baggett, who shot down a Japanese Zero that was attacking his plane.

He shot it down with his .45 M911 pistol.

Yup! You read that correctly. It is one heck of a story.

Paratroopers over the Ukraine / Via U.S. Army Europe

Paratroopers over the Ukraine / Via U.S. Army Europe

It happened on March 31, 1943 over Burma. Bagget was with the U.S. Army Air Force in India serving in the Tenth Air Force. He and his B-24 bomber crew, part of the 7th Bomb Group, were assigned a mission to strike Japanese forces at a particular bridge in Burma. While over Burma, his plane was attacked by Japanese Zero fighters. His plane fought back until it was too heavily damaged and the crew was forced to “hit the silk,” and activate their parachutes.

As they were floating towards the ground, one of the Japanese Zero pilots strafed Baggett and his fellow crew members, killing two of his men. Baggett, who was grazed in the arm, saw the Zero pilot circling back around and decided to play dead. According to a 1996 article in Air Force Magazine:

“The Zero pilot opened his canopy and approached within feet of Baggett, nose up on the verge of a stall. Baggett, enraged by the strafing of his helpless crewmates, raised his .45 automatic which he had concealed against his leg and fired four shots at the open cockpit.”

The Zero fell away and crashed. The Japanese recovered the body of the downed Zero pilot shortly after the incident. They reported that he had a single gunshot wound to the head.

A photo of the Japanese Zero fighter planes that attacked Pearl Harbor, the same type of plane taken down by Baggett / Via the National Museum Of The U.S. Navy

A photo of the Japanese Zero fighter planes that attacked Pearl Harbor, the same type of plane taken down by Baggett / Via the National Museum Of The U.S. Navy

This story is not about some kind of serious, superhuman marksmanship on display. Baggett would be the first to admit that it was a case of pure, dumb luck. But the story has all the elements of radical justice. It is an outrage, an act of pure cruelty and inhumanity, to attack helpless men suspended from their parachutes like that. It is not hard for us to imagine the rage that Baggett must have felt toward that Zero pilot doing what he did. We would want to unload an entire clip of .45 rounds in that guy’s direction too.

When Baggett and the surviving crew members landed on the ground, they were captured by the Japanese. Baggett would survive two years in a Japanese POW camp near Singapore. He returned home and continued to serve until he retired from active duty in the Air Force as a Colonel. He died at the age of 85 in San Antonio, Texas.

Though this one-in-a-million event seems utterly improbable, it happened. To Colonel Owen John Baggett we offer our thanks for his service in war time and in peace. We thank him, too, for one of the most fantastic stories to come out of WWII.

Rest In Peace. You served the country well.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.
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