Clarence “Bud” Anderson and the Greatest Generation

A Monument made 12 years ago at Bud’s Hometown Airport in Auburn, CA.

In an airplane, the guy was a mongoose. It’s hard to believe, if the only Bud Anderson you ever knew was the one on the ground. Calm, gen-tlemanly. A grandfather. Funny. An all-around nice guy. But once you get him in an airplane, he’s vicious. Shot down 17 airplanes. Best fighter pilot I’ve ever seen. He’s also the best friend I have in the world. We go back 47 years, Andy and I…

 Chuck Yeager, in his forward to Bud’s book

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, it seemed that every adult male associated with my father had served in WW2. One of his best friends was a tanker in North Africa. One uncle was a Marine who served both at Perris Island and then aboard a cruiser as the Captain’s adjutant. He experienced a kamikaze attack at Okinawa that would have killed him, but for the Captain’s telling him to leave the bridge a moment before to get something.

Another uncle was in Navy and served on an ammunition ship on the Murmansk run. I can remember his saying at night while on watch he’d see the wake of dolphins and wonder if it was a torpedo about to hit the ship.

As for my father, he was in the 82nd Airborne. But for a quirk of fate like my uncle’s, I might not be alive today.

He was helping a friend out of a plane on a training jump at Ft Benning and fell out the door, with the static line entangled in his leg.

Which ended up tearing his knee resulting in a stay at an Atlanta hospital, while his unit suffering 80% causalities during a jump into Sicily.

They are all gone now.

I’ve been interested in WW2 Army aviation for some time, with a visit to Wendover Airfield last year. I’m fascinated by the 8th Army Air Force, and the attrition rates they endured. And they went back, mission after mission. As for statistics on survival through your mandatary 25 missions, I have heard different numbers. It probably depended on where you were sent and the time – certainly it was a bit safer once the escort fighters were able to accompany you all the way.

But still there was the flak. Radar controlled; it was like shooting ducks overhead. And because of the altitudes flown, the Germans could see the contrails 50 miles before they reached the targets. You didn’t surprise anyone once over the target.

It was Curtis LeMay who saw the problem of the pilots overriding the Norden Bombsight’s autopilot in an attempt to dodge the flak. Which made the bombardier miss the target. Which necessitated another mission to the target.

I’ve read 2 books by members from the “Bloody 100th” Bomb Group of the 8th AAF. John “Lucky” Lackadoo at 102 is the last surviving member of the 100thHarry Crosby, who was portrayed in the Apple+ series Masters of the Air, overcame his propensity for air sickness as a navigator and despite initially leading his plane crew on the trip from the US over Nazi-occupied France instead of England, eventually became the group navigator leading up to 2,000 planes.

Anyway a few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear 2 WW2 fighter aces talk about their times in the war. Bud Anderson, who just died a few days ago at 102, was a triple ace and one of the “Yoxford Boys” along with Chuck Yeager of the 357th Fighter Group of the 8th AAF. Although he was born in Oakland, CA, he lived most of his life in the Auburn area – an old gold rush town just 30 miles “up the hill” from Sacramento. Ironically Yeager lived just 20 miles further up the hill from Bud in Grass Valley.

A few years ago, Bud along with Navy ace Dean “Diz” Laird came to speak at our California Aerospace Museum and of course I wanted to be there.

Both at the time were in their late 90s and both died at over 100 years old.

I learned quite a bit from both. Laird is the only Navy Ace to have served both in the European and Pacific theaters during WW2. I didn’t even know that Naval Aviation was in the ETO but they were, serving under a British admiral off Norway. Laird was saying how deadly cold the water was. If you fell overboard you were probably dead within minutes. He remembered 2-3 crewmen who found themselves in the water and 5 minutes later a destroyer picked them up, but with hypothermia eventually they – and their would-be rescuers – all died.

Funny how in life some experiences we have are retained as a snapshot – or a short movie, and they stay with you the rest of your life. Diz spoke of shooting down a German float plane, a Heinkel He 115 off Norway. He flew back around to see them in the water and the German crewmen waved at him. And it occurred to him that in minutes they would probably be dead from the cold.

Bud told us how it was serving in the 357th. When a new pilot would arrive, they would have him fly close and learn.

Do 5 and stay alive” was their saying.

Unlike the Navy, he was saying, individual pilots in the Army Air Force did not have their own call signs. Instead each squadron was given a call sign, with each pilot a number suffix. In this case, Bud’s squadron during D-Day was “Cement”.

He talked about what we know as the “Big Week”, which was the effort to clear the skies of Luftwaffe before D-Day. It was about a month before D-Day when he had what was probably the greatest dogfight involving a P-51.

He was saying as the war dragged on and the Luftwaffe lost so many pilots, one didn’t know if the enemy pilot was green or the Red Baron. He treated them all with respect, but as Germany became more desperate, they would put pilots with as little as 20 hours experience in the plane into combat.

The pilot he met that day was no novice, at the fight hinged on who would stall first, the Mustang or the Messerschmitt.

His talk was so interesting that I had to buy his book, To Fly and Fight. He describes a mission so well you will think you are with him. And during a dogfight you would be surprised at all of the controls one had to adjust, including fuel mixture, while you are fighting for your life.

Post war he was a test pilot for awhile at Wright-Patterson. Among the planes he tested was this little jet fighter. It was supposed to be a “parasite” and like the old biplanes that called dirigibles home, return to a giant B-36 bomber. They way Bud described this operation in his book reminded me of a dangerous trapeze act, with similar near-disastrous results.

After Wright-Patterson, he did a stint in Vietnam flying F105s.

He died peacefully in his sleep May 17th.

Chuck Yeager is buried at Arlington, and Bud will also go there. It would not surprise me to see them together again.

I stopped at the Auburn airport last Sunday, and apparently his family had a memorial service for him there.

7 thoughts on “Clarence “Bud” Anderson and the Greatest Generation”

  1. He remembered 2-3 crewmen who found themselves in the water and 5 minutes later a destroyer picked them up, but with hypothermia eventually they – and their would-be rescuers – all died.

    I once had to treat a case of hypothermia in California of all places ! The guy was a drug overdose who fell in front of an air conditioner in his motel room. You have to treat them with warmed blood circulated with a heart-lung machine. We didn’t have one and lost him to an arrhythmia after an hour or so.

  2. Alistair MacLean wrote “HMS Ulysses” which was autobiographical based on his service in the Royal Navy escorting Murmansk convoys. The weather and the cold were almost as dangerous as the U-boats.

    Sal at “What is Going on With Shipping” has a good presentation of the Merchant Marine contribution to the war and D-Day in particular.

    The accuracy of the Norden bomb sight is one of the great myths of WWII. It was LeMay that ended the “precision” bombing campaign in Japan and switched to a targets big enough that they couldn’t miss. At the end of the war in Europe, we were down to one bombardier per formation with the bomb other releases slaved to him. They experimented with radar but that didn’t solve the problem which was that they had no way to compensate for wind shears that might be blowing 3-4 different directions as the bombs passe through them. The Germans were in on the secret since they had their own man at Norden and knew exactly how they worked. Especially, they could figure out what we were using as initial point and aiming point and would spoof and camouflage them.

  3. Another interesting observation I have read is that fighters were assumed to attack bombers from behind, hence the name “Pursuit” planes. The B 17 was designed with it’s defensive armament firing to the rear. The Germans quickly recognized this and conducted most attacks head on. The B 17 nose guns were weak and not until the G model with its “chin turret” was this seriously addressed. Thank God Hitler did not focus his attention on the German jet fighters until too late. They could have massacred the B 17s.

  4. @MCA – when I took the tour at Wendover last year, we were taken to the maintenance room where they repaired and stored the Norden bombsights. They had 5 rooms with safes to store them. The docent said that while it was claimed that it would guide bombs into a pickle barrel, the docent said that was true, “as long as the pickle barrel was 1/4 mile wide!

    In one of the books I read – either Harry Crosby or John Lackadoo, they were talking about an experimental program they had using radar to spot the targets though the clouds – called “Mickey”.

    The funny thing was since it was so secret and each squadron was asked to send 1 bombardier for training. And the squadron commanders, not knowing what this was about, generally sent their worst crews.

    Mike – you are right about the frontal attacks. I forget what the Germans called the B-17 – I think it was the “Porcupine” – but they had a lot or respect for its defensive armaments’.

    As I have read more on the 8th AAF, I wonder how many were lost to friendly fire when those waist gunners, in trying to hit the fighters, hit other B-17s.

  5. The bomber advocates (less harsh than the bomber mafia) weren’t delusional. There was plenty of evidence that the Norden could deliver good accuracy. The problem was that it came from bombing ranges in the desert West, where the air was dry, the skies were clear and winds generally steady or you came back tomorrow. Not Northern Europe where skies were hazy from pollution if not from smoke screens, there might be five layers of differing winds and humidity between the bomber and ground.

    A bomb is just a peculiar sort of artillery shell that starts slow and accelerates rather than the other way around. The bomb strikes miles beyond the release point, even tiny errors multiply before the kaboom. After the war, experiments showed that even marking the bombs with chalk, as often seen, would significantly affect the path of the bomb. The Norden was an amazing device and very complex to set up without having to do it while flying through flak and fighter attacks. Bombardier school was more selective and quicker to wash out of than pilot training. So was navigator school, as the whole bomb run depended on arriving over the initial point at exactly the right heading. There were a lot of moving parts that all had to fall into line.

    At the same time, bombing was the only way to bring the war to Germany or Japan. Bombing day and night soaked up thousands and thousands of troops to man the anti-aircraft batteries and fighters. Soaked up thousands more building the fighters and guns and shells and all the scarce material that went into them. The constant wear on the population from day and night air raids had to reduce production before a single bomb burst. There’s no lack of hindsight for target selection and tactics but every bomb that fell on Germany brought the war closer to the end, even the ones that ended up in the middle of a potato field.

    As far as the jet fighters are concerned, I don’t believe there was ever a chance that they could have been deployed in enough numbers to make much of a difference. By the time they were flying, Germany lacked even enough high temperature alloys to provide the few ounces it took to make their conventional engines last more than a few hours, let alone the many pounds that each jet engine would have required.

    All the punishment absorbed by the Germans and Japanese while they continued to fight should inform those that so blithely speak of “regime change”. We are reminded again that it took 2-1/2 years of a mobilized economy that produced a liberty ship in three days and just one of many plants produced a B-24 every hour to accumulate all the men and material to even try to attack Europe head on.

  6. MCS: “All the punishment absorbed by the Germans and Japanese while they continued to fight should inform those that so blithely speak of “regime change”.”

    That is an excellent point. It is difficult to think of an example where bombing a population has caused them to pull out of a war.

    It did not work when the Germans bombed England, nor when the English & their Allies bombed Germany. It did not work when the US bombed Japanese cities — although arguably the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki (although less destructive than the fire-bombing of Tokyo) gave the peace faction in the Japanese government an excuse to surrender.

    The US bombing Hanoi did not cause the North Vietnamese to stop their attacks on the South. US/NATO bombing of Libya created chaos, but did not stop it. Ukrainian missile attacks on civilians in Russia has not caused Russia to withdraw from that US/NATO proxy war.

    Arguably, the only example of bombing accomplishing the objective of stopping a war was the aggressive NATO bombing of Serbia which focused on destroying civilian infrastructure and sending those people back to the Stone Age; however, other analysts claim that even there the bombing campaign was a secondary factor in bringing the war to an end.

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