Bud Anderson, Last of World War II’s ‘Triple Ace’ Pilots, Dies at 102

Bud Anderson, Last of World War II’s ‘Triple Ace’ Pilots, Dies at 102

Brig. Gen. Bud Anderson, who single-handedly shot down 16 German planes over Europe in World War II and became America’s last living triple ace, a fighter pilot with 15 or more “kills,” died on Friday at his home in Auburn, Calif., northeast of Sacramento.

General Anderson, who teamed with the renowned Brig. Gen. Gen. Chuck Yeager in combat and later in the storied age of pioneering test pilots, was 102.

His family, in a statement on General Anderson’s website, said he died in his sleep.

In his 30 years of military service, General Anderson flew more than 130 types of aircraft, logging some 7,500 hours in the air.

Piloting P-51 Mustang propeller fighters in World War II — he named them Old Crow, for his favorite brand of whiskey — he logged 116 missions totaling some 480 hours of combat without aborting a single foray.

When World War II ended, he held the rank of major at 23 years old. When he retired from active duty in 1972, he was a colonel.

His decorations included two Legion of Merit citations, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star and 16 Air Medals.

He was promoted to the honorary rank of brigadier general by the Air Force chief of staff at the time, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., in a ceremony at the Aerospace Museum of California in December 2022. General Brown called him “kind of a wrecking ball of a guy.”

General Anderson scored the third-highest number of “kills” in the Army Air Forces’ 357th Fighter Group, whose three squadrons downed nearly 700 German aircraft, mostly while protecting American bombers on their missions over Europe.

General Yeager was General Anderson’s squadron mate and downed 13 German planes. Becoming the first pilot to break the sound barrier, in 1947, General Yeager later joined with General Anderson in the test-flight program in California chronicled in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” (1979).

“On the ground, he was the nicest person you’d ever know,” General Yeager said of General Anderson in reflecting on their wartime years.

But as he put it in his 1985 autobiography, “Yeager,” written with Lee Jonas: “In the sky those damned Germans must’ve thought they were up against Frankenstein or the Wolfman. Andy would hammer them into the ground, dive with them into the damned grave, if necessary, to destroy them.”

General Anderson attributed his prowess in dogfights to his exceptional ability to identify enemy fighters like the Germans’ Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs when they were specks in the sky, just preparing to pounce.

“Part of that probably traces back to my fascination with planes as a kid, making models, filling up scrapbooks with pictures,” he recalled in “To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace” (1990), written with Joseph P. Hamelin. “But part must be physical. My eyes, I’ve always believed, communicate with my brain a bit more quickly than average.”

Of the German fighter planes, he added: “I wanted to see them. I might have been a little more motivated than most.”

He flew his first mission in February 1944, with the 363rd Squadron, and became an ace (a pilot with at least five “kills”) in mid-May. He was credited with 16 kills in his own right and a quarter of a kill for a mission in which he joined with three other pilots in shooting down a German plane. General Yeager, who flew a P-15 in that squadron while holding the rank of captain, was shot down over France in March 1944. Parachuting with leg and head wounds, he was hidden by the French Resistance, eventually made it back to England and continued to fly in the war.

General Anderson became a test pilot at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio in the late 1940s and early ’50s. After retiring from the Air Force in March 1972, he was chief of test-fight operations for the McDonnell Aircraft Company at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s high desert. General Yeager, whom Tom Wolfe portrayed as personifying “the brotherhood of the Right Staff” for his nonchalance in the face of flight emergencies, became deputy director of flight testing.

General Anderson commanded a tactical fighter wing in the Vietnam War and flew 25 missions in an F-105 Thunderchief he named Old Crow II, bombing enemy supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Clarence Emil Anderson Jr., known as Bud since he was a boy, was born on Jan. 13, 1922, in Oakland, Calif., and grew up in Newcastle, near Sacramento.

He was fascinated by commercial airliners flying above his town, and his father, a farmer, treated him to a biplane ride when he was 7.

“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to fly,” he recalled in an interview with the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

He gained a pilot’s license in a civilian training program as a teenager, then, turning 20, he joined the Army’s air wing a few weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

He married Eleanor Cosby in 1945. She died in 2015. His survivors include his son, James; his daughter, Kathryn Burlington; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren, according to his website.

The last World War II mission for both General Anderson and General Yeager came in January 1945, when they were extra pilots for a bombing raid over Germany.

When they saw that none of the other pilots were experiencing problems causing them to abort, they peeled off for an unauthorized joyride, buzzing buildings in neutral Switzerland and in France, then celebrated back at their base in a drinking contest with “rotgut rye,” as General Anderson recalled it.

“Chuck collapsed first,” he wrote in a remembrance included in General Yeager’s memoir. “I vaguely remember hitting him over the head with my canteen cup to make him stand up and keep going.”

They remained close friends in the decades after the war, often going on hunting and fishing trips together.

But for all the camaraderie and the exhilaration of winning so many dogfights, General Anderson saw war as “stupid and wasteful, not glorious.”

As he put it in his memoir: “Our nation must stay strong, and negotiate from that strength, while promoting better understanding among all the earth’s nations.”

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