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Autobiography Recounts a 97-Year-Old Man's Love of Piloting since World War II

Busayo Ogunjimi
Jun 05, 2021
04:50 P.M.
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A recent autobiography of a 97-year-old World War II veteran recounts his experience as a war pilot and his love for flying. At 97, the older man still has his passion for aviation intact.

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The world has heard many sweet stories of people who love their jobs, but it is rare to find the story of a 97-year-old who still enjoys flying more than five decades after taking part in World War II.

97-year-old World War II veteran John Billings was part of more than 50 combat missions as a pilot during World War II. He even took on secret missions for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA.

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Despite his age, Billings astonishingly retains his love for flying and would constantly be found at his home airport in Luray, Virginia. A recent heart scare prevents Billings from flying alone, but he takes pride in taking his Cessna four-seater up high in the air when he has someone by his side.

His soon-to-be-released autobiography "Special Duties Pilot" details his lifelong romance with aviation. The 97-year-old revealed his love for flying goes as far back as when he was a three-year-old boy.

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Billings joined his dad on his third birthday for an airplane ride at a local airfield in Hingham, Massachusetts, and his first flying experience left him hungry for more.

It did not take long for the 97-year-old to get his chance to pursue his dream. As an 18-year-old, in 1942, Billings enrolled in the army and requested to undergo aviation training.

His contribution makes him among the elite number of those who made their mark in World War II.

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Two years later, Billings had flown about 14 bomber missions and was later reassigned to the 885th Heavy Special Bombardment Squadron in Italy, where he helped drop spies.

Billings confessed to loving his new life as a spies carrier than his bombing missions which he considered too delicate. His new OSS flights were safer and gave him the time to show off his tricks.

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His skills came in handy during one of his flights into the Austrian Alps, where he took OSS agents to gather intelligence in a region that was considered a stronghold for the enemy.

The mission was considered highly dangerous and was turned down by the Royal Air Forces, but Billings volunteered to go for it, and it became one of the most significant victories of the war. 

A photo of a plane in the air. | Photo: Shutterstock

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Billings is among the few surviving OSS agents, but his legacy would undoubtedly outlive him. His contribution makes him among the elite number of those who made their mark in World War II.

Retired Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz hailed Billings as the prototype of an American aviator. For Billings, writing his book gave him the chance to tell a generation some of his greatest stories.

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