CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
John Baillie was born in in 1922 in Scotland to an Irish father and a Scottish mother. His family emigrated to America in 1928. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, Baillie lived in Bloomfield, New Jersey and was working as a machine operator at a factory. He decided to wait to be drafted, because he was under the impression that he could not enlist, since his family did not move to America until he was six years old.
Baillie was drafted into the U.S. Army in February 1943. He was initially sent to Fort Dix to take an aptitude test to determine what his job would be in the Army. Baillie received a good score, was assigned to the Army Air Corps and went to Miami, Florida for basic training. Although originally assigned to X-ray technician training, he switched to aircraft mechanics and was transferred to Biloxi, Mississippi for six weeks of training in it. Following his time in Biloxi, Baillie was assigned to a six-week stint at gunnery school in Laredo, Texas. Then he was sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, to join an air crew, which went to Casper, Wyoming, to participate in training missions. Baillie’s last stop in the United States was in Nebraska, where his crew was assigned to fly a B-24 Liberator bomber, in stages, from Nebraska to Northern Ireland.
Baillie enjoyed flying in the B-24. His crew was subsequently assigned to the 8th Air Force’s 2nd Air Division, 453rd Air Group’s 735th Squadron, the same air group which included actor Jimmy Stewart. Baillie’s squadron was based in Old Buckingham, England, where they flew on bombing missions over occupied France and Nazi Germany. The crews were briefed the night before a mission, as well as advised as to how much fuel and how many bombs they would need. Baillie soon learned that the more fuel they needed dictated how far into Europe the mission was going to be.
Crewmen were given German money and a map to use in case they had to bail out of a damaged plane over enemy territory. Baillie recalled that he thought he would rather be captured by the Wehrmacht rather than a local farmer, because the farmer might well kill him. The longest mission he was on, over Germany, lasted ten hours. In contrast, a mission to France was called a “milk run” due to its short duration.
When he first arrived in England, Baillie had to fly four missions with more experienced crews as his final training assignment. Following that, his crew flew a total of twenty-six missions on a B-24 they dubbed the “flying boxcar,” a name subsequently used for a postwar cargo plane. He recalled that the B-24 was able to take a lot of punishment from flak. In between missions, Baillie visited London often, where he witnessed the effects of the German bombing campaign. His experiences in England resulted in him developing a deep respect for the English, who he described as being “chin up.”
Baillie left England on May 9, 1945, and returned to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was stationed until September 1945. He was advised that his next assignment would be the Pacific Theatre, but those orders were cancelled after the Japanese surrendered. The remainder of his service was spent going from base to base, waiting to be discharged. Baillie was able to go home on leave, but much of his time was spent waiting. He was finally released from service in October 1945, much to his relief.
After the war, Baillie went to work for the A&P Company until he retired in 1984. Over the years, he went to visit members of his old crew. Baillie earned the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the European-African Campaign Medal with three Bronze stars, the American Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. He died at home on September 15, 2006, at the age of 84.