Conceived in 1938 by Consolidated Aircraft, a Lockheed Martin legacy company, the original B-24 Liberator prototype was designed to fly faster and carry a larger payload than the US Army Air Corps’s B-17 Flying Fortress. In time the B-24 would boast a long, tapered wing atop its fuselage, which allowed impressive long-range cruising capabilities. A B-24 could reach 290 miles per hour and carry a 5,000-pound bomb load for 1,700 miles, giving it a longer range, greater speed and a bigger payload than its B-17 cousin.
Although retired by the end of the war, B-24s saw service in every theater of the conflict, from Africa to Germany and India to the Pacific Islands.
On Mar. 31, 1943, the Pandaveswar based (northwest of Calcutta) 7th Bomb Group (BG)’s 9th Bomb Squadron was dispatched to destroy a railroad bridge at Pyinmana, about halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay and near two active enemy fighter bases. The formation was led by Col. Conrad F. Necrason, 7th BG commander. The B-24 on his right wing was piloted by 1st Lt. Lloyd Jensen whose copilot was 2d Lt. Owen J. Baggett. On that mission, Baggett was to earn a distinction believed to be unique in Air Force history.
Before reaching the target, the B-24s were attacked by Zero fighters.
Baggett’s plane was hit in the fuel tanks and caught fire, forcing the crew to bail out. As they descended with parachutes, the Zeroes continued to attack, killing two of the crew and wounding Baggett in the left arm.
Feigning death, Baggett watched as a curious Zero pilot approached him, performing an astonishing bit of aerobatics to get a closer look at the wounded American. At just the right moment, Baggett drew his service pistol, a Colt .45, and fired four shots, hitting the Japanese pilot in the head and causing the Zero to crash.
Baggett was captured and taken to a POW camp, where he was surprisingly received and feted as a hero by the Japanese camp commander, a colonel, for his fine shooting at the Zero. This is an example of the Japanese military’s peculiar Bushido code, which placed great emphasis on honor and valor in battle.
After the war, Baggett returned to the United States and settled in Texas, where he lived a quiet life with his family. He died in 2006 at the age of 85. Baggett’s heroism in shooting down a Japanese Zero with his Colt .45 while hanging from an open parachute will always be remembered as an inspiring example of courage and determination.
Baggett’s exploit has been reported as credible by both National Public Radio and Air & Space Force magazine.
Photo credit: Unknown
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