A Living Legend: P-51 Mustang Triple Ace Pilot – Retired Colonel “Bud” Anderson

Triple Ace Pilot - Retired Colonel “Bud” Anderson

There is simply no one in the world like Retired Air Force Colonel Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson. At age 99 1/2, he is a living legend. In January of 1942, at the young age of 20, he joined the U.S. Army Aviation Cadet program and earned his wings nine months later. He would go on to become the highest scoring triple ace pilot flying 116 missions in his P-51 Mustang over Europe during World War II. He was never hit and never turned back from a mission.

First P-51 Mustangs Take to the Air

On the way over to England, he and the young group of pilots with him, learned they were going to be flying the brand new P-51 Mustangs. These advancement aircraft were long-range, single-seat fighter planes. While the men had heard about them, they had never flown them. Anderson’s unit were the second to fly them. This was an incredible boon because the airplanes in use at the time were not doing well against the German Luftwaffe. The bombers needed a fighter escort to get their job done, but the fighter planes were short-range and could not keep up with the bombers.

North American P-51D-5-NA Mustang #44-13926 from the 375th Fighter Squadron.

The Mustangs changed all that. These planes had the endurance and range necessary. The pairing of the P-51 with the bombers was extremely successful. This meant, however, that Anderson and his unit would always be flying into the combat zone as an escort to the bombers and would have to hone their skills in dogfighting the German pilots.

Anderson rose to the challenge. Flying “Old Crow,” the name he gave his P-51 Mustang after the whiskey with same name, he eventually accomplished 16 1⁄4 aerial victories (480 hours of flying time) over two combat tours. He took down 16 enemy aircraft in aerial combat and another one on the ground. His close friend and fellow decorated pilot, Chuck Yeager, said that he felt Anderson was, “The best fighter pilot I ever saw.”

He said in an interview later in his life that out of all the over 130 different aircraft he’d flown that he had three favorites; of course the P-51 was among them. He said they were beautiful, flew well, and that they saved the air war in the European theater during WWII. He noted that it “Got me through the war so the P-51 Mustang is a favorite.”

Retired Col. Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson discusses fighter escort tactics and dogfighting.

Post WWII Military Career

After the close of the war, he stayed in the U. S. Air Force and commanded the F86 Fighter Squadron in post-war Korea and then F105 Tactical Fighter Wing in Okinawa. He later worked at the Pentagon on two different assignments, and finally, commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing in Vietnam. He personally flew an F-105 and dropped bomb strikes on enemy supply lines. He was decorated 26 times in his 30-year military career. Among those were the Bronze Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he received the highest order of merit from France, the Legion of Honour.

Retirement Means More Flying

Anderson’s Autobiography

In 1972, after 30 years of distinguished military service, he retired as a Colonel. He then joined civilian life and began a career as a test pilot for McDonnell Aircraft Corporation where he managed their flight test department for 12 years. He retired in 1984 and embarked on a new “career” of public speaking with lectures in different parts of the country and at air shows. He maintained his CFI rating for many years and continued to fly various types of aircraft. Throughout his legendary career, Bud Anderson has flown over 130 aircraft, more than 7,500 hours. In 2008, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. For more about his life, his 1990 autobiography, To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace is still available.

Old Crow Café at the Aerospace Museum of California

Just this past week, he officially opened a café that honors his service, the Old Crow Café at the Aerospace Museum of California. The café is decorated with Anderson memorabilia. In an interview given to a local news station, he shared: “They call it ‘the Greatest Generation,’ but I don’t know, I was just doing what I had to do.” That is why they will forever be called the Greatest Generation.

Retired Air Force Colonel Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson, thank you for your astonishing service!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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