Clarence “Bud” Anderson, was born in Oakland, California and raised on a farm in the countryside near Newcastle. Bud had always wanted to be a fighter pilot. He’d been inspired by films of the Battle of Britain, seeing the dogfights, and by the first flight his father had taken him on at the age of 9 in a small biplane. “It was intoxicating, exciting, and a little frightening,” he remembered. When the war began, he thought that if he was in a single-engine, single-pilot airplane, he’d be in control of his environment and fate. At the age of 20, he enlisted into the United States Army as an aviation cadet. He soon earned his wings and commission into the Army Air Corps in September 1942. He was selected to become part of a brand new fighter group that would train in the States and then join the war against the Luftwaffe, Germany’s imposing Air Force, over Europe. He was assigned to his fighter group, boarded the Queen Elizabeth, one of the two largest ocean liners in the world at the time, and sailed to England to become the first unit in the 8th Air Force: the 357th Fighter Group in the 363rd Fighter Squadron.
The 8th Air Force were flying a new, tremendous airplane that, according to some, saved the air war in Europe: the B-17 Flying Fortress. Originally, they flew in large formations and had to fight their way into their bombing run and then fight their way out. This was during the Daylight Bombing campaign so they could use Norden bombsights to go after military targets and destroy the war-making capability in Germany. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as planned. By mid-1943, strategic bombing of Germany was very much in doubt. With sixty to eighty airplanes lost and ten-man crews on board each, they finally said, “We need fighter escorts.”
Bud was assigned to a Pioneer Mustang P-51. The 8th Air Force average combat mission was about four and a half hours, with the longest Bud ever flew being 6 hours and 55 minutes on D-Day. The bomber pilots of the B-17s told Bud and the other fighter pilots how to escort. They wanted them to stay close and surround them. When the enemy came in, they were to chase them off and then come back. The Luftwaffe had to be defeated before the Allies could invade Europe. It was mandatory. The Luftwaffe was an impressive force and they would have been a dangerous hindrance during the invasion. The arrival of the Mustang was a significant factor in the success of the Allied air war in Europe. The mission of the 8th Fighter Command was to destroy the Luftwaffe, no longer simply to escort and chase off enemy planes. “Most historians agree that the spring of 1944 was when we broke the back of the Luftwaffe. We destroyed it by killing their experienced pilots by the tactic ‘pursue and destroy,’” Bud recalled.
Bud’s combat record was impressive, flying 116 missions without a single enemy hit to his plane and having never turned back from a mission for any reason. His airplane was the P-51 D Mustang, which he named “Old Crow” after the whiskey of the same name. Bud and “Old Crow” would go on to score over 16 remarkable aerial victories, making Bud one of the war’s few American triple aces. (You must have five confirmed kills to be considered an “Ace.”) His ability in the cockpit prompted fellow pilot and close friend, Chuck Yeager, to remark that Anderson was “the best fighter pilot I ever saw.”
Bud Anderson also served in the Vietnam War, was decorated 25 times for his military service, and retired as a Colonel in 1972. By the end of his 30 years of military service, he had logged over 7,500 hours in over 130 different types of aircraft. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in July 2008. Bud is now 97 years old and still comes to visit us at the museum every so often.