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May 24, 2024

Profiles of Valor: Farewell Col Bud Anderson (USAF)

Blue skies and tailwinds to the last member of the World War II Triple Ace Club.

The nose art “Old Crow” on iconic P-51 Mustangs flying at air shows today is immediately recognizable by aviation enthusiasts and historians as the name then-Capt Clarence “Bud” Anderson gave to all the planes he flew during his 30-year military career. In the European Theater during World War II, that would include his P-39 with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, three P-51Bs for combat tours with the 357th Fighter Group, and his 357th Fighter Group P-51D. In Vietnam, Bud flew combat missions in his “Old Crow II” F-105D as commander of the 355th TFW at Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand.

Bud was a farm boy raised in New Castle, California, by teetotaling parents, so in some circles, he said “Old Crow” referenced “the smartest bird in the sky,” but all who knew him understood it was the brand of the cheapest Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey available at the time, his favorite.

When Bud was seven, his father arranged his first ride — it was in an open-cockpit Stearman PT-17 biplane. He was hooked. He learned to fly in 1941, his first year in college. But prompted by the attack on Pearl Harbor, in January 1942, he enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Forces, earning his wings in September.

Ahead of D-Day, he deployed to Europe, where he would serve two tours, primarily escorting and defending heavy bombers against the Nazi Luftwaffe. He flew his first mission in February of ‘44 and earned his first confirmed kill on March 8, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 that was attacking an ailing B-17 Flying Fortress. He recalled: “We were heading home, three or four guys, with [1st Lt. John England] along with us. We saw a Boeing B-17 below us, smoking, so we were headed over there when three Messerschmitt 109s came up. They didn’t even see us. We cut them off at the pass, and I saw one and said, 'This one’s mine.’ I wanted one bad.”

As the two engaged in concentric circles, Bud says: “It’s hard to get a shot in at 90 degrees. I was pulling a lot of Gs. I fired blind, and when he next came in view, black smoke was coming out — I got him in the coolant system. He went up and bailed out.” Bud’s wingman declared: “Best shooting I’ve ever seen in my life! He hit that son of a b***h out there at over 40 degrees!”

His second Bf 109 kill was a month later, along with a Heinkel He 111 heavy bomber. His fifth shoot-down was another Bf 109 over Frankfurt on May 12, making Bud an Ace. In the next two weeks, he took down three more enemy aircraft and, in June, shot down three Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, confirming him as a Double Ace. He scored his 12th kill in July and then took some much-needed R&R. Returning to the 357th in November, over the next 45 days, he shot down four more Fw 190s, becoming a Triple Ace plus one.

Notably, he became close friends with renowned fighter and test pilot Chuck Yeager, who also flew P-51s with the 357th. As he and Chuck were joy-flying over Switzerland in January 1945, he lamented missing out on a big day in the sky: “When I learned that while we were joyriding over the Alps, the rest of the 357th had scored a one-day record of 56.5 shoot-downs, I got sick!”

Yeager would write later, “On the ground, he was the nicest person you’d ever know, but in the sky, those damned Germans must’ve thought they were up against Frankenstein or the Wolfman; [Bud] would hammer them into the ground, dive with them into the damned grave, if necessary, to destroy them.” He added, “Bud was the best fighter pilot I’ve ever seen.”

Bud flew a total of 116 combat missions totaling 480 hours without ever taking a hit. But of the 28 pilots who deployed with him in Europe, half were either killed or became POWs by the end of the war. He lamented: “You come home and there’s an empty bunk over there at night. Each guy had to figure out how to cope with that. Some guys just could pull the shade down and ignore it. Some people would not make friends — close friends — because of it.”

He was promoted to Major at the end of his second tour, and the 357th FG was credited with 609 enemy aircraft kills, producing 42 Aces — more than any other fighter group, with Bud Anderson leading the pack. Bud talks about his combat missions here.

For the record, 1,283 American pilots became fighter Aces during World War II. That would include famed Medal of Honor recipient Marine Maj Joe Foss. He matched the 26 kill record held by America’s top World War I ace, Eddie Rickenbacker, who was an inspiration for Bud Anderson. Foss became America’s first “ace-of-aces” in World War II.

After World War II, Bud married his sweetheart Eleanor Cosby, and they were together for 70 years until her death in 2015.

He served with many Air Force commands, including command of an F-86 squadron during the Korean War, concluding his combat tour in Vietnam commanding the 355th TFW. He retired in 1972 as a Colonel and logged more than 7,500 hours in more than 100 types of aircraft over the course of his career. He then had a second career as a manager with the McDonnell Aircraft Company’s Flight Test Facility at Edwards AFB until 1998.

Among his military decorations are the Legion of Merit (2), Distinguished Flying Cross (5), Bronze Star Medal, and Air Medal (16). His first Distinguished Flying Cross citation notes: “For extraordinary achievement and heroism in aerial combat and the destruction of three enemy airplanes over enemy occupied Continental Europe. The skillful and zealous manner in which Captain Anderson has sought out the enemy and destroyed him, his devotion to duty and courage under all conditions serve as an inspiration to his fellow flyers. His actions on all these occasions reflect the highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.”

In 2022, on his 100th birthday, Bud Anderson was promoted to the honorary rank of Brigadier General by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Charles Brown.

This week, Bud took off for the last time, after 102 years of life. He is remembered fondly by all who knew him for his infectious enthusiasm, determination, and optimism.

An inscribed copy of his 1990 memoir, To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace, sits next to me as a source for this tribute. When contemplating the heroic service of such men, it is always a blessing to have an abundance of their own words.

Bud Anderson: Your example of valor — a humble American Patriot defending Liberty for all above and beyond the call of duty, and in disregard for the peril to your own life — is eternal. Blue skies and tailwinds, sir, ceiling and visibility unlimited! We are humbled by your service, and lifting up your family in prayer.

This upcoming Memorial Day, as Ronald Reagan noted in a Memorial Day address four decades ago, “Let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation.”

“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

(Read more Profiles of Valor here.)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our Military Mission of Service to our uniformed service members and veterans, are proud to support and promote the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, both the Honoring the Sacrifice and Warrior Freedom Service Dogs aiding wounded veterans, the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, the Folds of Honor outreach, and Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, and Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)

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