Col. Bud Anderson: The Highest Scoring Living American Fighter Ace Part II
In this final part of his interview, Col. Anderson describes how and why he joined the Air Force, his training, patriotism, his appreciation for his squadron, and more.
Col. Clarence (Bud) Emil Anderson served in the United States Air Force during World War II, and is a triple ace fighter pilot. He’s the highest scoring living American fighter ace, and the 10th highest scoring Mustang Ace of all time.
Col. Anderson was a member of the 357th Fighter group, which was said to have “shot down the "most airplanes in the shortest time of any unit in the European theater, perhaps the whole Air Force.” They had over 600 aerial victories in 14 months, and 42 aces, more than any other fighter group.
He also commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, an F-105 Thunderchief unit, during its final months of service in the Vietnam War.
Col. Anderson was inducted in to the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2013, was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
This year, Col. Anderson celebrated his 100th birthday. Click here to learn about his birthday celebration.
For more pictures of Bud during the war, click here.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
Warriors in Their Own Words is our attempt to present an unvarnished, unsanitized truth of what we have asked of those who defend this nation. Thank you for listening, and by doing so, honoring those who have served.
Last episode, we heard from Col. Bud Anderson, and today we’ll hear the rest of his story.
Anderson served as a P-51 Mustang pilot in WWII, and is the highest-scoring living American fighter ace.
Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson:
You have to remember I was 22 years old, a very young man or an old kid. I'm in a foreign country for the first time in my life, engaged in combat. I've been trained. I'm anxious. I'm eager. I'm patriotic. I want to do my duty. I want to do the best I can, but there's big odds that you might not make it. You might be killed in this thing. And you wonder inside, "How am I going to perform personally? Am I going to run or am I going to fight?" You don't know. I mean, you can train, but the actual thing is real. It's real. You wonder what you're going to do.
The way I entered combat, I flew on somebody else's wing for the first time and it wasn't just a patrol and an easy thing. What you'd like to do is get a guy about five missions on a milk runs. Easy flights. Get them used to being over enemy territory. That's an emotional thing right there to look down and say, "You know, if I go down over there, those are all bad guys there." Just to get over that feeling. And my first combat mission I flew on a wing of a guy and we actually got in combat and I was just hanging on, I mean. But say after you get five, five missions, you get over that initial fear and you survived. And then if you shoot somebody down yourself, that gives you tremendous confidence. And this overrides the fear.
And you're trained to, we had good training to do your duty. Things like this. Now you get in actual combat, here you are one on one, kill or be killed, it's you're so busy trying to survive, trying to achieve your objective that I found I really didn't have that fear of, not that I wasn't nervous or apprehensive, but you didn't have that little kid fear of the dark, that kind of thing. You're just too busy.
Relate it to something like you're in an automobile and you have a close call, say you got in a skid and you're trying to, or a close, almost a collision, you do what you have to do. When it's all over you say, "Oh my God, that was pretty close." That's very similar.
Of course, in World War II, we were all very young. I'd say in our fighter squadron, the average age was... Well, let's just take my age, for example. Essentially I was 22 years old the whole time I flew my combat. I finished my last mission on the 15th of January 1944. And I turned 23 three days before that. 13th. So I was 22 during my whole time. We had guys younger than me and I had guys a little older than me. The senior people in our fighter group were... The group commander, the colonel, was probably 27, 26, 28, somewhere in there. Now, we compare that with... Oh yeah, and so in those days there were mostly young guys, so whenever the old guys were flying with us, you'd always say, "Well, hey, got to watch out for these old guys. Take care of them."
So now, project yourself ahead to 1970, when I was flying in Vietnam. Now I'm the colonel. I'm the old guy. And I'd say the average age of the fighter pilot, we were flying F105s and bombing communist targets in Southeast Asia, average guy was, and I'm just pulling this out of the air, 40 plus, maybe. We had some young lieutenants that were 26, 27, 28 years old. We called them the super lieutenants. They were really good, well trained. But we said in those days, "Us old guys got to look out for those young fellas." Quite a turnaround.
Just a little bit of history about the 357th Fighter Group. I think we have about 5,000 men total. Had three fighter squadrons, and plus all the support units that go with it. We were stationed at Leiston Air Base in the United Kingdom during World War II from November 1943 to the end of the war. Then, our unit went over to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation. We were activated as a unit during World War II, a new unit, and trained, went over and fought the war. And then, the unit was deactivated. And so, we have a limited number of members. There's no unit today in the United States Air Force called the 357th Fighter Group. So, we had three squadrons, 362nd, 363rd, 364th Fighter Squadron, in the 357th Fighter Group.
I believe today that I am the leading, living Mustang Ace. Some guys always had their last ditch maneuver, a defensive thing, what they would do. And I don't know, it never really crossed my mind, that part of it. I always was thinking of, what am I going to do to that guy? What am I going to do? It was always attack the enemy, rather than how do I defend against an enemy.
Our main claim to fame was that we shot down the most airplanes in the shortest time of any unit in the European theater, perhaps the whole Air Force. I don't know. But we got over 600 aerial victories in 14 months. The P-47 unit and the 354th Pioneer Mustang Group have more air kills, but they were over there- some of them were over there a couple of years. And so, it's pretty remarkable at the rate that we... And we had 42 Aces, and I think that was more than any other fighter group.
I flew two tours of combat with the 357th Fighter Group. My first tour was... Well, I was over there, over about 14 months. My first tour in actual combat was in February-July of 1944. And I came home on a three month rest and recuperation, returned, and was flying combat in September of '44 through January 1945. And during that time I flew 116 combat missions, 480 hours of combat flying. I shot down 116 1/4 enemy airplanes in the air, another one on the ground, and a couple of probables, and a couple of damaged. And during all of that combat, I never received any substantial damage. I think I got one bullet hole through the airplane after D-Day, when we were doing ground strafing and ground support work.
I remember we were attacking this rail yard, strafing it, making multiple runs through there. I came back from the mission and told my crew chief, Auto Hino, I said, "Hey, airplane's okay. Get it ready for tomorrow." Next day I came out and he says, "Come over here. I want to show you something." And we went over to the left wing and he says, "Look at that." And a small arms had gone through there, probably a rifle. And it was so small that they had just cut away and put a British shilling coin. They had glued it on there to patch the thing. And of course it really didn't do any damage, but that's the only damage I had during World War II, other than maybe hitting a few parts or something in the air.
War is a bad thing, no matter how you think about it. There's nothing like a good war, but I mean, I think World War II was, from the standpoint of America, standpoint of good and evil, I think we were on the right side. Germany, Italy, and Japan formed an axis and were going to conquer the world, essentially, and put the rest of it to slavery. So there was a high motivation and there was a highly patriotic... The country was very, very patriotic.
The home front was affected very much by World War II. All of the industry was turned into war production. There were no new cars, no personal products being produced. Food was rationed. Gasoline was rationed to everybody. Cigarettes were rationed. It was just a total effort. Every able bodied man was probably in uniform or he was in some kind of defense industry, or he was what they call 4-F, unfit health wise, something like that. Moms and dads were turning in their aluminum pots and pans to build airplanes. Every family had a star in the window for a service man. Just a tremendous, patriotic time, where I would say 99% of the country was behind the war effort, I mean, and it just generated a lot of spirit and a lot of dedication.
So you have that as a background of doing your duty. So now you get over there and I explained, how am I going to do in combat? How am I going to do when I face the enemy, when I have to kill somebody, or he's going to kill me? How am I going to react? Am I going to run? Or am I going to fight? So once you get the experience, and we do that, you're more confident. You've got your confidence. You didn't run.
So now I have no joy about having to kill somebody. I had to face that. I was raised in a religious family, in the Ten Commandments, and thou shalt not kill. I had to figure it out in my own mind, that this was something we had to do, and that's it.
Whenever I had a victory, so to speak, I was always pleased if the guy bailed out. If he didn't, that's tough. But I was always very, very elated that it wasn't me that was in that position. It was him. I didn't have any particular joy about it. I mean, I'm just happy that I survived. Afterwards, you say, when you come back, and that's my initial feelings in the airplane, right there, is, I'm just pleased that I've survived. And I'm back on the ground, of course. When we were talking about it and all this stuff, it's more elation than... It certainly isn't depression. I mean, I'm not... The guy was trying to kill me.
I had one particular dog fight where I'm out in front of the bomber formation, this section, because there's miles between these large formations in this big stream. And I'm in a dog fight with an ME109, just the two of us going around and around and around. And we're drifting. We're right in front of the B17s. And I know if I get there, they're going to be shooting at me. B17s didn't care. If you pointed your nose towards them, they're going to fire at you.
Now, we did look somewhat like a ME109, the Mustang did, and the P47s looked somewhat like a Focke Wulf 190, and so you can't blame them. I think their idea was, if it came through, shoot at it, and we'll sort them out later.
Well, in this particular case, May 27th, we were away from the bombers. That was not an opportunity. That didn't happen. In all the dog fights that I had, you know I I flew 116 missions, about 500 hours of combat flying, shot down 16 1/4 enemy airplanes. I don't think I ever followed one through a bomber formation where that opportunity would happen. And if you did, it would be a quick thing. You wouldn't be sitting there inside of a formation, dog fighting with B17s all around you. That just wouldn't happen. But if you went through there, they'd shoot at you. There's no question about that.
Why did I name my airplane the Old Crow? Obviously I've been asked that question many times, and I have a prepared statement for you. I tell my Baptist friends, my non-drinking friends, it's named after the most intelligent bird that flies in the sky, the crow. And that's true. They are considered very, very intelligent. But my drinking buddies all know it's named after that good old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Now my wife, Ellie, best thing that ever happened to me, of 60 plus years, it'll be 60 years next year, she says, "Most guys name their airplane after their sweetheart or their wife. What do they think's going on here?"
I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in flying. I mean, I had that desire to fly as far back as I can remember in my life. I was inspired or thrilled by Lindbergh's flight. That was fascinating. I lived in Northern California, right around several airfields, and as a child, was just fascinated with airplanes, and had pictures of them all over my bedroom wall, little model airplanes hanging from the roof and things. Just an all consuming thing. I wanted to fly.
The little fighter airplanes fascinated me more. I guess I would get to even think of World War I, the history of World War I. The Aces had more publicity than anybody, and you saw more about them, and so that fascinated me. The Battle of Britain was going on before I learned how to fly, and I'd heard about that.
I learned to fly when I went to college. There was no way in the world I could... Well, let's drop back a little bit. When I was seven years old, my dad knew of these interests, and we stopped at a little dirt strip there, outside of Sacramento. And he hired the thing, and the two of us rode in the front, and we went up in this old biplane. It was exhilarating and terrifying for a seven year old, but I think it played on my emotions and kept my interest up. It was just an incredible feeling, the sound and the smells and things like this, as a kid. I can still remember that.
Then later on, it was during a... it was still sort of depression area. My parents didn't have enough money to allow me to learn how to fly, so when I was... I looked up the qualifications for joining the Army Air Corps or the Navy, and I learned you had to be 20 years old, you had to be physically fit, and you had to have a couple years of college, a minimum. So this was the peacetime standard at the time. And so I went to junior college in Sacramento and got my two years of college. I was still 19 when I finished those two years.
In my last year of college, the government offered a program called Civilian Pilot Training Program, where they subsidized training of a pilot to get more interest in pilots. I think they knew war was going to come, and this was one way of getting people interested. And for the small price of $9.50 for insurance, and my parents' permission, I participated in that program. And I got a private pilot's license in 1941. I flew in a Piper Cub, 40-HP tail-dragger with balloon tires and a tail skid, no brakes. And it was probably slower than some of the cars could drive in those days, but it was flying. And it was exhilarating. I'm thinking of 400 miles an hour and stuff like this, but it's still flying.
And then I was waiting to be 20 years old, and I wouldn't be for another six or seven months. I got a job as an aircraft mechanic at the old Sacramento Air Depot, which is later McClellan Air Force Base. And I actually got a job as an aircraft mechanic, worked on airplanes, and we had P40s there and B17s, things like this. And I would get up in the cockpit and pretend I was flying. I was a pilot, so I knew some of the functions, and that stirred me on.
And it was always better to be in the little fighter because I was in charge. I didn't have to have a crew. And I thought, well, fighter pilot was a total thing. And that probably continued my interest in that. Soon as my 20th birthday came up, I went right there at McClellan, right down the recruiting office on my 20th birthday, and signed up. And a few days later, I was out of there. Went to primary training, basic training, in California, by the way, and then went to Arizona for my advanced training in the AT6. And they wanted pilots in every category. There were vacancies. They were just training pilots as fast they could, and I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and so I got my choice. And that's still where my interests were, then my whole military career, although I've flown about everything they had in the Air Force.
My flight training program was to teach you the basics of flying. It was probably pretty good, actually. I went to a civilian primary flight training school, had experienced instructors that taught us how to fly, get us in the air and safely, and some of the basics. And then, we went to basic flying school. This was a military base and had military instructors, and we got into formation and a little bit of instrument flying. Now, we had a radio to talk on, and had a closed cockpit, and things like this. And then, the final training was in the advanced flying school. We had the AT-6 retractable gear, controllable pitch prop, a little more complex radio. And again, concentrating on formation flying, a little bit of gunnery, instrument flying under the hood. Graduated, went to a P-39 unit as a replacement pilot type of thing. Got checked out in fighters, more the same flying formation, gunnery, shooting at aerial targets.
And then, from there I was selected as a member of the original cadre that formed a fighter group to go fight the war someplace. And as a selected member, that meant I was going to be a flight leader in a squadron to help train other pilots that would come in. And what would I have? I'd have 100 hours more than the guys coming in. Some of the training was almost, do it yourself. We had no combat veterans. We had guys that had been in the Flying Tigers come talk to us, been in area of combat. I remember some Royal Air Force guys that were in the Battle of Britain came and talked to us. But for actual combat veterans, I think in our fighter group, we only had one or two. One of them had been in the Pacific, and the other guy had been in the Aleutian Islands, which really didn't see any aerial combat. So, some of it you might say was the do-it-yourself training. We had the basics. We knew what the formations were and the tactics, and we'd go up and dog fight with each other, just to hone our skills.
Was the training adequate? I don't know. We never flew in big formations before I got to Europe. The biggest formation I ever flew in was probably eight airplanes. And then, every day in England, we went out with 16 airplanes and then, two more squadrons, 48 every day. And the big shortcoming was probably instrument flying in actual weather, and then, flying formation in weather. I didn't have very much actual weather time, and I had zero formation weather time. And we had to learn that on the job.
Well, during World War II, it was a big effort by everybody, and it took everybody to get the job done, and took all the services to get the job done. The Navy, the Air Force, the ground, everybody, and it took a home front. And I touched on that before, but the home front was completely turned into war production and supported the effort 110%.
Now, you get down into a squadron, into a fighter squadron. The guys that didn't fly, our ground crew, were all supporting the mission of getting the airplane into combat. And they were pumped up just like we were, from a patriotism standpoint.
And then, think about it a little bit. If you were crew chief of an airplane, this was your airplane to maintain, that's your pilot. If he went down for any reason whatsoever, think how you'd feel about that. And they were very dedicated. And I just can't say enough about our crew chief and the support that we had. I can't remember being short ammunition, being short gasoline, being short parts. We just had total support. And the guys, the individuals, the crew chief, and the armors and all that worked out in the open, they didn't have hangers to work in. And we had lousy weather in England. We fought through the worst winter in, I don't know, 100 years in England in 1944. And they were out there at all hours of the night, getting those airplanes ready for us to take off pretty early in the morning. And they probably, the ground crews, were just a little bit older than the pilots. And there was a good relationship there. I just remember how dedicated they worked, and I got this good example to tell you, to express how much I appreciate their effort:
My second tour, Otto Heino was my crew chief from my training days till we went overseas, all through up to the finish of my first tour. He was my crew chief, and he had an armer, Leon Zimmerman. He didn't take an assistant crew chief, he did it all himself. And he was so meticulous. He was a Ford auto mechanic in the civil life. And I guess that's what got him into to be a crew chief. And he would take such care with the airplane that is just incredible.
I remember in the P-39, one time, he says, "Is there anything I can do for you that would make the airplane better?" Well, I remember this time on the windshield, we had this little combining glass right behind the armor, and it would get dust on it, and it would obscure your vision forward. And there was no way you could clean it. And I said, "Well, you keep this airplane so clean, I really can't complain. But look at that combining glass there, if you could get that dust off there, it would be absolutely perfect." And the next day I came out, and I look up there and that thing is just crystal clean. He'd gotten a turkey feather that he could stuff in there and dust it off. And that was an example of how ingenious and dedicated he was.
But the real story I want to tell you, is during my second tour, Otto got promoted to tech sergeant, and therefore, crew chiefs were staff sergeants. So, he was assigned as a flight line chief, and he had about six airplanes under him. So, when I came back from my second tour, I'm not going to get Otto Heino anymore. So, he hand picks another crew chief for me, Mel Schuneman. So, I got Schuneman and Zimmerman as my crew. But Otto Heino has got the airplane in his flight, and he's always there to see me off, and always there when I came back, and still kept his personal touch on this airplane.
Well, when I came back, I got a brand new D Model. My other old crow was gone. I don't know where it went, by the way. It was transferred to another pilot, and he flew it to Russia and back, and he finished his tour. And then, I think the airplane ended up in our little training school for new pilots, and then, probably just was a war weary and disappeared.
But so, I've got this new D Model and it's painted in the camouflage, the dark green camouflage that we had. Now, we were starting to get all aluminum painted airplanes, and we had so many airplanes. Now, pretty soon, we were flying them in that paint scheme, aluminum. We didn't bother painting the camouflage on them. But mine's camouflage, okay?
So, I started flying again in September. In November, I can remember this, we had a mix of airplanes. And I was flying over Germany in November, and I was looking down on the snow, this first snow came over Germany. Now, I knew I was going to finish my tour sometime that winter, I'd hoped. And I looked down at those airplanes, there were two camouflaged airplanes and two silver ones, and guess which one stood out against the snow? The camouflaged airplane, of course. So, I got back from that flight, then Otto was there, and my crew was there, and the airplane's okay. And I said, "When we have some heavy maintenance on this airplane, I'd like you to depaint it and put it in the silver, the natural aluminum paint scheme. And I told him the reason that I thought it would help me, it would be more camouflage than a camouflage airplane in the winter, and I would appreciate that. And so, I went in, I was the operations officer then. I decided I was going to fly the next day, put my name on the board, went and forgot about it.
Next day, we get up and go have breakfast, get the briefing, come down to the squadron, and I get my parachute. My hardstand was right outside of our operations, and I could walk out to it. I didn't have to drive around and come into the front of the thing. So, I had my parachute on and I climbed up over this revetment wall, and I looked down there, and there's this Mustang standing there in gleaming aluminum. And I was really shocked, here these poor guys, three of them were kind of standing there at attention. And I walked up there and I looked at them and their hands were raw, literally bloody. From the moment I'd said that yesterday, they started working on that thing, worked straight through the night. Got it depainted, ready to go.
And I felt kind of like a jerk for the minute there. I said, "God, did these guys think I gave them a direct order to do that?" Then, I thought about it a minute, and I said, "No, no. It came from here." They wanted to do it. It's just an example of how dedicated they were. I just can't say enough about them.
You train in a fighter group, back here in the States. You get to know everybody in your squadron, you know everybody in your flight. It's a great way to fight. If you're going to fight, that's the way to do it. You don't even need a call sign. When you hear a guy's voice, you know who it is. You don't have to know if it's Redford or whatever it is. You can recognize him, the talent, the skills of each guy who you can depend on, who not to depend on, stuff like that. Great friendships evolve in this.
And then, how do you cope with that when you come back from a mission, and a guy doesn't come back, and you got an empty bunk over there in the bunkhouse? It's a tough thing. I just kind of pull the curtain down and try to keep it out of your mind. Other people would be standoffish, don't have good friends, avoided this kind of thing. It's just something each person had to learn how to cope with, personally. Loss of a friend, loss of a squadron mate.
I had a tremendous relationship with members of my flight, my squadron. I thought so much of them, that I actually named my son after two of them. And both of them were killed in combat.
Jim Browning was one. He did a second tour. We were talking about how guys did second tours. He just did a continuous tour. And he later got shot down when he made a head on pass with a German jet, Me-262, and they collided. Both of them were killed.
Eddie Simpson was the other one. He was my wingman, and then he became my element leader, and then he was a flight leader by himself. All these guys grew up in the squadron as the combat went on. I had already left the squadron, was home, and I read about the Russian shuttle raid. Well, he would've gone on it. And he looked at the schedule and realized that if he went on the Russian shuttle mission, he would exceed his combat tour by, I don't know, four or five flights. Because they'd fly over, run a mission, fly to Italy, fly a mission, and fly back to England and start over again. And he only had about two missions to go. So, he opted to stay in England while he went on the Russian raid, and he was killed in a mid-air collision with another Mustang. And he survived and parachuted out, the other guy was killed. And this was after the invasion, of course. And he landed in central France somewhere. They got a monument for him in this town, by the way. And he joined up with the free French, and we got this information much later, and they were stopped by a roadblock of German soldiers. I mean, this is wars going on. I mean, big time. And he and one Frenchman jumped out of the truck when they reversed, and they shot at the Germans while they escaped, and they were both killed. And so, that was Eddie Simpson. So I named my son, James Edward Anderson.
What's the difference between a good fighter pilot and a great fighter pilot? I've thought about that a lot, and let's say that both of them are trained equally. Both of them have the same background. Both of them have about the same flying time. Both have good eyes, both have a good understanding of tactics and things like this. This all applies. You have to know your enemy. You got to know what to do.
What does make the difference between a great fighter pilot and a good fighter pilot? And I think it's something internal, something up here, or in your heart. Call it a fighting spirit, call it what you want. Motivation. The guy that wants it more. You got to want to do it. You got to want to do it. You take average... Not an average, but let me just give you a fighter squadron. You've got a group of people, a few probably don't belong there. You got another bunch that are doing a good job, but that's all they're doing. They're there all the time. And you got the other guys that'll go with you, and are doing a good job. Then, probably some of the Aces are the better ones, and they want to do it. Can you imagine a guy going, flying an entire combat tour, and never seeing an enemy airplane? I don't know. I could see them, I had good eyesight, stuff like that. But I wanted to see them. I don't know. It's kind of a hard thing to say, but I think it's motivation, patriotism, whatever you want to call it. But you had to want to do it. You had to want to go up there every day and do it.
That was Col. Bud Anderson. If you enjoyed this episode, check out the show description, where you can find links to more of Bud’s interviews, his wartime photos, and more.
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Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.
Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
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