When Army Air Forces bomber pilot Owen Baggett was trying to take out a bridge in WWII at Burma, he ended up having to bail out in the skies over the bridge. He landed in the history books.
In March 1943, Baggett and other airmen in his B-24 Liberator squadron were met by a baker’s dozen of Japanese Zero fighters as they went over their target. Baggett’s B-24 was hit numerous times in its fuel tanks and Baggett and his crew were forced to bail out.
Baggett, the co-pilot, covered their escape in the B-24’s top gun turret. He and the rest of the crew barely got out before the plane exploded.
The deadly Japanese attack kept coming, however, attacking the pilots in their parachutes as they gently fell to earth. Baggett decided to play dead in his rig, trying to avoid getting strafed by a fighter plane.
That’s when one of the Zeros got a little too close.
A Japanese pilot approached Baggett in his chute with the Zero’s nose up and at near-stalled speed. The enemy pilot opened his canopy to get a look at the American. Baggett, who was sneakily holding his M1911 pistol, snapped up and angrily fired four rounds into the Zero’s cockpit. The Zero spun to the ground.
Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, was also shot down that day. He said he saw the Japanese pilot’s body thrown clear of the downed plane and that the pilot was killed by a bullet to the head, not the plane crash.
But Melton himself was killed on a ship that was sunk as it headed toward Japan. If Baggett really did take down a fighter with a pistol, he would be the only person to ever shoot down an aircraft with a pistol.
When Baggett hit the ground, the enemy pilots were still trying to strafe him. He hid behind trees until ground forces captured him. Baggett spent two years as a POW in Rangoon, Burma. He was later rescued by OSS agents and stayed in the newly-created U.S. Air Force after the war’s end.
Baggett retired from the Air Force as a Colonel and later worked on Wall Street. He died in 2006 and firmly believed he was successful in shooting down the Zero with his 1911.