Summary of Legendary Rumor:
Owen John Baggett, a pilot who flew B-24s in World War II, shot and killed a Japanese pilot with a revolver while he parachuting to the ground from his destroyed airplane.
By all accounts, it’s true that Owen John Baggett killed a Japanese pilot while parachuting to the ground during World War II.
The legend goes that 2nd Lt. Owen J. Baggett was dispatched along with the 7th Bomb Group’s 9th Squadron to destroy a bridge near a Japanese base halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma on March 31, 1943. Baggett was the copilot of a B-24 bomber, and 1st Col. Lloyd Jansen was the pilot.
When the plane was severely damaged by enemy fighters, Jansen gave the order for the crew to bail out, which Baggett had to hand single because the intercom had been destroyed. Baggett parachuted from the plane, and, Air Force Magazine reports:
The Japanese pilots immediately began strafing the surviving crewmen, apparently killing some of them and grazing Lieutenant Baggett’s arm. The pilot who had hit Baggett circled to finish him off or perhaps only to get a better look at his victim. Baggett pretended to be dead, hoping the Zero pilot would not fire again. In any event, the pilot opened his canopy and approached within feet of Baggett’s chute, nose up and on the verge of a stall. Baggett, enraged by the strafing of his helpless crewmates, raised the .45 automatic concealed against his leg and fired four shots at the open cockpit. The Zero stalled and spun in.
After Baggett hit the ground, enemy pilots continued to strafe him, but he escaped by hiding behind a tree. Lieutenant Jensen and one of the gunners landed near him. All three were captured by the Burmese and turned over to the Japanese. Sergeant Crostic also survived the bailout. Baggett and Jensen were flown out of Burma in an enemy bomber and imprisoned near Singapore.
The Japanese held Owen Baggett prisoner for more than two years. Air Force Magazine cites three pieces of evidence to support claims that Baggett shot the Japanese zero pilot while he parachuted to the ground:
A few months later, Col. Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group who had been shot down, passed through the POW camp and told Baggett that a Japanese colonel said the pilot Owen Baggett had fired at had been thrown clear of his plane when it crashed and burned. He was found dead of a single bullet in his head. Colonel Melton intended to make an official report of the incident but lost his life when the ship on which he was being taken to Japan was sunk.
Two other pieces of evidence support Baggett’s account: First, no friendly fighters were in the area that could have downed the Zero pilot. Second, the incident took place at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 feet. The pilot could have recovered from an unintentional stall and spin.
There was no official report of Baggett shooting a zero pilot from mid air, but Air Force Magazine concluded that “there appears to be no reasonable doubt” that legends of Baggett’s valor are true.
We completely agree