Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. One might think that the only time a pistol could be used to down an enemy aircraft as the shooter is parachuting to earth would be in a video game or cheesy action movie. Enter Owen J. Baggett, the only US service member who has ever been credited with downing an enemy aircraft with his sidearm.
Before the war, Baggett was the drum major for the Hardin-Simmons University band before going to work on Wall Street after graduation. Then he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and became a pilot at the New Columbus Army Flying School.
Here is the tale of his legendary feat, from Wikipedia:
On March 31, 1943, when they were stationed in British India, Baggett’s squadron was ordered to destroy a bridge at Pyinmana, Burma. But before reaching their target, the B-24 bombers were intercepted by Japanese fighter planes. Baggett’s plane was badly hit, and the crew were ordered to bail out. The Japanese pilots then attacked U.S. airmen as they parachuted to earth.
Two of Baggett’s crew members were killed, and Baggett, though wounded, played dead, hoping the Japanese would ignore him. One Zero approaching within several feet of Baggett, then nose-up and in an almost-stall, the pilot opened his canopy. Baggett shot at the pilot with his .45 calibre pistol. The plane stalled and plunged to the earth, with Baggett becoming legendary as the only person to down a Japanese airplane with a M1911 pistol.
He survived and was captured by the Japanese. He would remain a prisoner for the rest of the war. Baggett and 37 other POWs were liberated at the war’s end by eight OSS agents who parachuted into Singapore.
Baggett went on to live a long and happy life, rising to the rank of colonel before pursuing opportunities a civilian defense contractor. He passed away at the age of 85 in 2006.