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A Career of Flying Fighting and Winning

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Vaughn Weber
  • 355 WG/PA

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. (retired) Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson, the last surviving triple ace pilot from World War II, passed away peacefully May 17, 2024 at the age of 102.

A flying ace is an aviator credited with downing five or more enemy planes. Bud was decorated three times over, awarding him with the World War II triple ace. Additionally, he flew over 130 different types of aircraft and amassed more than 7,500 flight hours throughout his military career and into retirement.

Born Jan. 13, 1922, Bud’s interest in flight was quickly realized. He earned his pilot’s license as a teenager and enlisted in the Army Air Forces at age 19, six weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon completing training, he arrived in Europe in 1943 and became one of the first pilots to fly the P-51 Mustang with the 357th Fighter Group.

While piloting the many P-51 Mustang aircraft variants over the Western front, Bud brought down 16 German aircraft and shared the credit on a 17th across 116 missions and more than 480 combat hours. Many of the planes downed were Focke-Wolfe 190s.

“On the ground, he was the nicest person you’d ever know,” Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager wrote in an autobiography. “But in the sky, those Germans must’ve thought they were up against Frankenstein or the Wolfman; Andy would hammer them into the ground, dive with them into the grave, if necessary, to destroy them.”

At the conclusion of World War II, Bud went on to command the 69th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in Osan Air Base, Korea, during the Korean War and the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. Eventually overseeing the wing and base inactivation Dec. 10, 1970.

The 355th Wing was reactivated in 1971 along with the 357th Fighter Generation Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.

“Brig. Gen. Anderson’s leadership and command of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing was instrumental in our nation’s past conflicts,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Mills, 355th Wing commander. “Today the 355th Wing remembers and honors both the individual and his service to the nation.”

Bud also played a pivotal role as a fighter test pilot once he was back stateside serving at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. He retired from the Air Force in 1971 to manage a test facility at Edwards AFB, Cali. He left with the rank of colonel and received an honorary promotion to the rank of brigadier general in 2022.

Bud’s dedication to furthering aviation knowledge led to many breakthroughs for the Air Force, marking him as a role model to aspiring pilots for generations to come.