Still flying at ninety seven: Autobiography recounts WWII pilot’s life

If he’s not airborne, there’s a great chance you will discover 97-year-old John Billings at his residence airport in Luray, Virginia. A current coronary heart attack prevents him, for now, from piloting solo, but he still routinely flies his Cessna four-seater when a co-pilot can be a part of him.

A lifetime of flying

going back to his days as a 21-year-old bomber pilot in Italy after which flying secret missions with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA, is recounted in “Special Duties Pilot,” an autobiography scheduled for release next month by Pen and Sword Books. “It was just something that one method or the other just received burnt into me as somewhat baby,” he mentioned of his love of flying. On his third birthday his dad took him for an airplane experience at an area airfield in Hingham, Massachusetts. “In reality it only lasted possibly 15 or 20 minutes, however to a 3-year-old, it felt like the entire afternoon and it burned a gap in me, and that was it.”

So in June 1942, when Billings enlisted within the Army as an 18-year-old, he requested if he might enroll in aviation training. Not solely did he have an active curiosity, he also readily admitted that he needed to keep away from an infantry unit; he’d heard what infantry combat was like and didn’t assume he had the abdomen for it. The recruiter assured him that aviation could be an choice, a reassurance he now recognizes as pleased discuss. Still he was lucky enough to be chosen, and started his aviation training in 1943. He’d flown 14 bomber missions when in November 1944 he was told he’d been reassigned to the 885th Heavy Special Bombardment Squadron in Brindisi, Italy. He then discovered the squadron was primarily a cover for the OSS. Instead of dropping bombs on enemy territory, he was now dropping spies. He stated he actually most popular the OSS flights and considered them safer than the bombing runs, where he was required to fly in tight formation. The OSS flights afforded him somewhat extra flexibility, and extra alternative to improvise.

There was no larger need to improvise than on his most storied mission:

Operation Greenup, on which the movie “Inglorious Basterds” is loosely based mostly. Billings flew OSS agents behind enemy traces into the Austrian Alps to gain intelligence within the mountain area that served as one of the last Nazi redoubts. Royal Air Forces turned down the flight, saying it was too dangerous. Billings volunteered. Winds exceeding 200 mph pushed the plane on a 6,000-foot (1,829-meter) descent in 20 seconds. But Billings leveled the airplane, and zigzagged back up a slim Alpine valley to the drop web site. The OSS brokers on the Greenup mission accomplished, among different issues, the peaceful give up of Innsbruck in early May 1945. Billings is one of maybe a handful of dwelling OSS agents remaining, stated Charles Pinck, president of the Falls Church-based OSS Society. OSS founder “General William Donovan mentioned OSS personnel carried out ‘some of the bravest acts of the warfare.’ That’s a perfect description of John Billings,” Pinck mentioned. “John Billings is the prototype of an American aviator,” said retired Air Force Gen.

Norton Schwartz, who hosted an internet conversation with Billings, sponsored by The OSS Society, ahead of the discharge of Billings’ autobiography. In his guide, it’s clear that flying of any kind is Billings’ passion. He served for many years after the warfare as a pilot with TWA and Eastern Airlines. In retirement, he flies volunteers as a medical transport pilot with AngelFlight, missions he says are as rewarding to him as these he flew in World War II. He stated he felt compelled to finally write the book as a end result of “a lot of individuals, together with my wife, had been nagging me to do it.” More than that, though, it gave him a chance to tell the tales he loves to tell. “When I get began talking about flying, I discover it hard to cease,” he said.