Captain Billings’ Story, A World War II Veteran And B-24 Pilot: On this episode of WallBuilders Live we will be interviewing Captain Billings, a World War II Veteran and B-24 Pilot. We talk about his B-24 bomber missions, his undercover OSS missions, and many more of his amazing World War II stories. Read or tune in now to learn more! 

Air Date: 09/19/2017


Guests: Captain Billings, David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast.  However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture, this is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, all from a Biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian. Also, Tim Barton, national speaker, pastor, and president of WallBuilders. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state rep. Find out more about us at our websites WallBuildersLive.com. Also, our other website is WallBuilders.com.

The Amazing B-24 pilots

Today is a little bit of a different program. We get the opportunity to interview some of our great veterans and tell their stories. so we get that Biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective through their eyes and their experiences in serving for our nation. Great story today. Tim have the opportunity interview John Billings. David, tell us a little about it.

David:

Yeah, John Billings was a pilot in World War II. By the way, these guys are really rare today, that they lived through World War II and are still alive right now. We love their stories. We love hearing from them. As a B-24 pilot, this is a plane that really amazes me. This was kind of like the pickup truck of World War II.

When the Japanese hit us at Pearl Harbor, we thought we had the war to end all wars, World War One, that we wouldn’t have another war. So we were still flying by planes on the Air Corps at the time and we didn’t have good planes.

So the Americans kicked in and we started turning off a B-24 Liberator off the assembly line every 55 minutes. We talked to one B-24 pilot, he came back he said that they had 105 holes in this plane and it still landed. I mean, this thing was a workhorse.

Matter of fact, one of the guys was 18 years old as a crew chief. He was a pilot, he was the head of the plane, 10 guys on the plane. There was one guy that was 24 years old, everybody else was 18 and they called him Pop.

These guys, what they did back in World War II, especially B-24, amazing folks. And the story that John has is really an amazing story as well. What he went through, what he did, and what he’s still doing today is just as amazing as what he did back in World War II.

Rick:

Stay with us folks, John Billing is our special guest today on WallBuilders Live.

Moment From American History

This is Tim Barton with another moment from American history. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees to every individual the right to keep and bear arms, has been targeted for years now by those who are determined to dismantle the individual right to self protection.

Opponents argue that, “Only the militia, the military, and law enforcement are to have and use firearms.” But those who wrote the Second Amendment strenuously disagreed, including Founding Father Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the declaration, a president of the Continental Congress, and one of those who actually framed the Second Amendment.

He declared, “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”

For more information about Richard Henry Lee and the history of the Second Amendment go to WallBuilders.com.

How Captain Billings Became A B-24 Pilot

Tim:

Hi my name is Tim Barton and we are back here on the show with a very special guest, Captain John Billings who is a world war II veteran. Captain Billings, it is such a pleasure to have you on our show, thanks so much for being with us.

Captain Billings:

My pleasure here too.

Tim:

Captain Billings, one of the great pleasures that I have is getting to talk to people that are considered treasures, like yourself, a hero from World War II. I would love if you would share with our listeners some of your story.

Captain Billings:

I don’t mind that at. All although, I don’t know if I deserve a title “hero.” The heroes are the ones that didn’t get back here. I was one of the lucky ones.

Tim:

I think especially for my generation, we would look back and consider all of you heroes. The ones that paid the ultimate sacrifice, but really, everybody that was involved in that great conflict. To us you are heroes. But certainly you’re right, those that have laid down their life for our freedom, for our nation, we would certainly consider them the ultimate heroes.

Nonetheless, we still do consider you a hero and we would love to know some of your story from World War II, how you got involved, and what you did during the war, if you don’t mind sharing with us.

Captain Billings:

No I don’t mind it all.

Tim:

When did it all begin for you?

Captain Billings:

It began in high school. It was approaching the time that we have to go down and file for draft. I did not want to get drafted. Very frankly, I thought that if I got drafted there would be a possibility that I’d end up in the infantry.

I went down in june of 42 to the recruitment office. Of course now I know that they would say anything that they thought I wanted to hear. But I asked them if there was any possibility of me becoming a flying officer. And they said, “Absolutely.” So I signed up, and did the medical, and I went on active duty in December of 42.

In a nutshell, I went through training several places in the country, Syracuse, down in Texas, three of the schools were in Texas, and the final school before getting my wings was in Frederick Oklahoma.

Tim:

Were all of these flight schools?

Captain Billings:
Yes. I ended up assigned to- it was just fortunate, I didn’t know about it but I got assigned to a B-24 command pilot training center in Liberal Kansas. And that was extreme training, the best training that I had received in my whole lifetime. More than once I am convinced that that training saved my life from.

We finished the training in Charleston South Carolina where we spent about 13 weeks as a unit crew. We went over as a single crew, we ferried an airplane over, which was our transportation over to Italy. Then flew together for the entire war.

What A B-24 Plane Can Do

Tim:

Just out of curiosity, a B-24 is a bomber, so as a as a bomber were there multiple kinds of bombers? Did your plane have specific missions that was different than other bombers? Or were bombers similar in what they did?

Captain Billings:

There was some similarity. However, the B-24 was the heavy bomber. B-24, up until the time that the B-29 came along, had the heaviest load, the highest and the fastest- They didn’t use it specifically as a bomber throughout the world. In fact, the B-24, when it was first built, a lot of them went to England through the Lend Lease program and they used the bombers as submarine chasers to protect the convoys from coming over from America.

And the B-24 has a longer range than any other bomber. A lot of them were out in the Pacific but I was based in Italy from my combat. Like I said, first I was in a bomb group. The bomb group is where you look out the window and you see nothing but airplanes all over the sky and you did mass bombing. They had as many as fifteen hundred planes on one mission. Not all bombers, there were bombers, and fighter escorts, and so forth.

Captain Billings Covert Missions

On one mission they put fifteen hundred planes against the single target, only one of those I was involved in. I only flew 15 missions. And what happened was some of my crew members wanted to get extra credit to go home. And four of my gunners went on the same mission, in four different airplanes, by the way. But it was the same mission and the fighters happened to engage that mission and one of this four came back. And I didn’t find out until long after I was home and in civilian life.

I got a phone call from one of those four, the other three I still don’t know whatever happened to them. However, that left me with an incomplete crew. And I think that’s the reason that I was transferred to the OSS. There was two crew members who had no crew and that left us six crew members. So they sent us down and that made a crew for the OSS, which is only eight crewmembers. There’s a covert mission in the SS That was the beginning of the CIA for the * mission.

Tim:

The OSS, that was the beginning of the CIA, right?

Captain Billings:

It was the grandaddy of the CIA.

Tim:

So this is very much covert, spy related kind of stuff that you’re doing then?

Captain Billings:

Yes, it definitely was. It was single plane missions, no cover, no fight escort, and almost all of them were at nighttime. And we flew literally sometimes in the valleys at night just to escape radar detection.

Tim:

Wow, at night flying in these valleys, are you using instruments or is this just visually trying to have to see at dark? How did you maneuver that?

Tim:

Well, some of both. When they did the night missions, a lot of it, of course we were dropping people and supplies to anybody that would help us on the ground. So we were low level. Where the bomb group in the daytime was very high, in the mid 20,000s of feet. In OSS sometimes we were cruising 100 feet above the ground.

Tim:

Oh my goodness!

Captain Billings:

At night.

Tim:

So if you have tall trees and hills in front of your plane you could be in trouble.

Captain Billings:

Uh huh! Took a little while to dodge them. And sometimes that lowness was not in altitude. We could be a hundred feet off the ground and be in the Alps.  Typically we would start up our engines and get ready. And once we were * for takeoff we put on our oxygen mask and turned it on to 100%, so we would breathe 100% aviation oxygen for the whole mission.

The idea behind that with the fact that, theoretically, it was supposed to sharpen your eyesight. I couldn’t verify that. But I do know that I have seen, flying at night in black out areas where nothing was visible and all of a sudden a guy would light a match or strike a * for a smoke and you can see the whole *.

Captain Billings’ Favorite World War II Mission

Tim:

Wow, in the midst of these Oasys flying missions are there any specific missions that stick out to you? Or even in all of your flying through World War II are there some flights that are more memorable than others?

Captain Billings:

Yes, I was fortunate in one respect. I was assigned to a special mission I was a *. Actually, there were four members in the team. One of them was just going up and returning with us, the other three I only gave a half a ride to. They left the airplane in the Alps over a frozen- it was a glacier at the time, at 10,000 feet elevation. That’s when their feet hit the ground.

The leader of the mission, he wanted us to be no more than 300 feet off the ground. That assured them the least time in flight *. That was the operation Greenup mission. They were extremely successful.

It was rather difficult. There was a lot of stuff to do but we got them out there and supplied with their equipment. And once on the ground they did miraculous stuff getting the information back. And I managed to get a distinguished flying Cross from that mission. It’s documented in many books. In fact, in google you can just say, “Operation Greenup” and it’ll all come up.

Tim:

I’m looking at it right now and I see that they’ve actually made movies. This was a Hollywood movie that they made of this special operation that you were the pilot for. This is really incredible.

Captain Billings:

Yes, it was real Hollywood movie. The first time I saw that movie I didn’t realize it was supposed to represent the Greenup mission. And a director, producer, interviewed us and made an additional movie and she called it, “The Real”- what they call that movie?

Tim:

I think, “The Inglourious Basterds” is what they call it.

Captain Billings:

Yes, and then she said, “The Real Inglorious Basterds.” I really enjoyed that. And they came out and interviewed me and interviewed the leader, who as it turned out, lived only 100 miles from me and I didn’t find out that that was so until the late 60s.

I was living in Mount Vernon Virginia and he was living in Charles Town West Virginia. We got together and we became very close friends. Although this year I got very mad at him. He did something very bad.

Tim:

Uh oh.

Captain Billings:

Oh he died.

Tim:

Awe!

Captain Billings:

I haven’t forgiven him for that yet.

When World War II Ended

Tim:

Well, hopefully over time maybe that becomes a little easier. Captain Billings, knowing that you were over there in the midst of the war were you there when Germany surrendered? Were you there at that part of the end of the war?

Captain Billings:

Well, actually, I finished all my missions and arranged to go home. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t give us a plane to take back home. So I had to ride the boat back across the Atlantic. That was not nearly as much fun as flying on airplanes.

We left Naples harbor in the afternoon and when we were maybe an hour or two into the Mediterranean they announce on the radio that this day was the day. That’s the day the enemy officially surrendered.

Tim:

So you were just, I guess a relatively short amount of miles out of location when Germany officially surrendered and made that declaration?

Captain Billings:

Yeah.

Tim:

Wow. When you came back to America was was at the end of your military career?

Captain Billings:

Oh, no, I was assigned to a base out in California called “Victorville Army Air Field” and its purpose was to maintain B-24s and literally instant reserve. They call it class A* which meant that it could be put in the air with less than 24 man hours.

I was in charge of one of four squadrons in Victorville and that was in the desert, the Mojave Desert. I stayed there until Japan capitulated. Through the B-24 quite a bit.

I was supposed to be the desk officer and I was assistant to the commanding officer of the squadron. However, my body is not built for desk, it’s built for an airplane. So any time there was a need, or a job, or even an excuse to fly, I was there.

What Captain Billings Is Doing After Serving

Tim:

Did you continue flying after you left the military?

Captain Billings:

Yes I did. I haven’t stopped.

Tim:

So you still fly?

Captain Billings:

I still fly.

Tim:

My goodness. What do you do? Do you pilot for a specific organization?

Captain Billings:

Yes, I do Angel Flights.

Tim:

Wow.

Captain Billings:

I don’t know if you’ve heard of those?

Tim:

Absolutely. But please tell our listeners.

Captain Billings:

It’s where a pilot donates his services and his airplane to people who otherwise cannot use or cannot afford public transportation. I’ve been surprised how many doctors have rejected the idea that his patient would go on an airline. The * is getting higher.

And I kind of agree to that. I don’t like to fly on them anymore. I spent 35 years * employed by airlines. But it’s different now. And the angel flight is much better because we are small planes, we can go into a local airport right near the person’s home area, and take them to the closest airport of their need, wherever the medical services are provided for.

Many of the patients have literally been given up by the local doctors. And now they go to specific places where they are doing leading edge trials, like children’s hospital in Cincinnati, the Cleveland Clinic, and Boston, all over. And the patient pays nothing.

I found out Angels Flight in 2004 and re-equip my airplane with redundant navigation and so forth. And in 2005 I started in February, the first one. Last Monday was my 353 Angel Flight mission.

Tim:

Wow! Captain Billings, that’s incredible. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?

Captain Billings:

I’m 93.

Tim:

My goodness, you are such an inspiration and example. You haven’t retired and gone to the golf course. You are still serving and giving back. One of the reasons, sir that we refer to your generation as, “The Greatest Generation.”

Not only did you fight for our freedom in World War II, and for the freedom of the world against this incredible communist regime and mindset, you’re now still serving and helping people.

Captain Billings, I want to take a minute and just say thank you for your service, World War II. You truly are a hero. Now looking forward, you are also an inspiration for the way you are still serving people and we are so grateful for your service.

Captain Billings:

Well thank you. My copilot, who is with me most of the time, has created a website documenting our Angel Flights and various flights. If you want the website I can tell you.

Tim:

Yes, sir. Absolutely.

Captain Billings:

It starts off like a lot of them, w, w, w dot, and then all one word, Wings Around America, .com.

Tim:

So, www.WingsAroundAmerica.com is the website they can go and find out more of your Angel Flights, what you’ve done, how you’re doing it, and perhaps even get to know you a little bit more through some of these flights you’re taking people on.

Captain Billings:

Right. And Nevin, that’s my copilot, never missed-a very good photographer and he’s the one hanging out the window getting good pictures and very good documentation.

Tim:

Wonderful. Well, Captain Billings we certainly will encourage people to check out that website. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners before we leave?

Captain Billings:

My addiction started when I was three years old. And it was my father’s fault because he went out to the local airport and bought two tickets to fly *. And it was probably no more than a 10 or 15 minutes ride. But it seemed longer at that age. And that’s it, I couldn’t not do it.

Tim:

So for the last 90 years you’ve been addicted to airplanes, to flight, and you’ve been doing it for an awful long time.

Captain Billings:

Yep.

Tim:

Wonderful. Well, Captain Billings, thank you so much for taking time to share your story with us today. We really appreciate it.

Captain Billings:

Well thank you much.

Tim:

And if you guys will hang on, we’ll be back in just a moment with David Barton and Rick Green here on WallBuilders Live!

We Want To Hear Your Vet Story

Rick:

Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live.  Once in awhile, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people.

One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live, from folks that were in the Band of Brothers, to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live.

You have friends and family that also served.  If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please e-mail us at [email protected]  Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live!

Hearing Stories From The People Themselves Is Far Better Than A Textbook

Rick:

Welcome back, thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. David and Tim Barton with us now, thanks to John Billings for coming on and telling his story. David, as usual, it’s better to hear it from them through their eyes then to read it from a textbook.

David:

It is. And it’s great stories. By the way, we have a set that we offer called, “Air Land And Sea” where it goes through the stories of these guys, amazing guys who went in the caves * after the atomic bomb hit. Guys who were on the USS Indianapolis, the biggest naval disaster in history and they survived all the shark attacks. We’ve had guys that have done everything.

One of the guys who was with Eisenhower when they discovered the concentration camps. He actually had to go through the bodies to see if anyone was still alive. Just amazing, amazing, stories. So for anybody who likes this kind of stuff.

But I was thinking about what John said. Think about fifteen hundred planes on one mission. I mean, just looking at the sky- 1,500 airplanes. But I was even thinking about logistics because I’m a pilot and right now the FAA regulates you. You get to take off once every 30 seconds. But let’s take off fifteen hundred planes.

Even if you do several at a time continually, how long does it take you to get 1,500 planes in the air? And are you needing to refuel the first planes by the time the rest of the planes get off? And how do you assemble? Do you all fly in a big circle up? You can’t do that because you’ll crash.

I just think the logistics of having 1,500 planes, it’s amazing. Then for him to be part of OSS, I mean, OSS, that’s the early CIA stuff. There’s a great movie, Alan Ladd, about the OSS is right after World War II showing what they did. Really fun movie.

But for him to be 93 years old and still flying missions to day, 93 and is still flying all these Angel Flight missions.The guy is amazing! His stories are amazing too! So, a lot of fun. Really a blessing to be able to talk to folks like John Billings and appreciate what they’ve done for the nation.

Captain Billings And Other War Veteran Stories  

Again, more of these stories available on the website. You can get that CD or the download from all the branches and actually multiple wars. Of course these World War II stories are always incredible but all throughout our history these guys actually bring it to life. I’d rather hear it from them than read it in a textbook as we said earlier.

It really is good to chronicle them because it makes you appreciate what we have. Some of us, we can get a little spoiled in this freedom that we get to enjoy. We need to remember the sacrifice of generations before that made it possible. Thanks for listening today folks, you’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live!