Bud Anderson, the last World War II ‘triple ace,’ dies at 102

Anderson shot down 16 German planes in World War II, flew bombing missions in Vietnam and served as a test pilot alongside Chuck Yeager.
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Clarence "Bud" Anderson during World War II, next to his P-51 Mustang "Old Crow." (photo courtesy the American Air Museum/Imperial War Museum)

One of the last masters of the air has died. Brig. Gen. Clarence Emil “Bud” Anderson, credited with downing 16 enemy planes over Europe in World War II, died this past week at his home in Auburn, California. He was 102.

“On 17 May 2024 at 5:29pm, WWII Triple Ace Brigadier General Clarence E “Bud” Anderson passed away in his home peacefully in his sleep surround [sic] by his family. We were blessed to have him as our father,” his children wrote in an announcement posted on Anderson’s website. “Dad lived an amazing life and was loved by many. He was 102! Thank you for all your kind comments and messages.”

Anderson’s aerial victories during World War II gave him the rare “triple ace” status, but his career in the military extends beyond those battles in the sky.

Born Jan. 13, 1922 in Oakland, California, Anderson grew up playing sports in the Bay Area. Before he joined the U.S. military he was already a licensed pilot, having earned his pilot’s license while in college at the age of 19. Shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, Anderson enlisted in January 1942. A few months later he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He stayed stateside for more than a year, piloting a Bell P-39. He finally went overseas to England in late 1943. 

Assigned to the 357th Fighter Group, Anderson began flying bomber escort missions, piloting a series of P-51 Mustangs, each named “Old Crow” — after the bourbon whiskey. In the first five months of 1944, he shot down five German planes, earning him “ace” status. He rose through the ranks, serving two combat tours. By the end of 1944 he’d reached triple ace status, won several dog fights and by the end of the war flew 116 missions. 

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ. Brown, Jr. leads Bud Anderson in the oath of office in 2022, in order to promote him to brigadier general. (photo by Nicholas Pilch/U.S. Air Force)

He is credited with 16 and a quarter kills. The quarter came from a joint effort in downing one German plane. Anderson had the third-highest number of enemy aircraft kills in the 357th Fighter Group, which alone took out nearly 700 German planes. 

He served alongside fellow fighter pilot legend Chuck Yeager during World War II. The two were close friends and would both serve as military test pilots after the war. According to his website, Anderson logged more than 7,500 hours in the sky, flying more than 130 different types of aircraft. 

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However he wasn’t done fighting. He led a F-86 squadron in Korea after the 1953 ceasefire, and then a F-105 squadron based out of Okinawa. During the Vietnam War Anderson again was in combat, flying 25 missions while in command of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing. Flying an F-105 Thunderchief named “Old Crow II,” his wing focused on bombing North Vietnamese supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 

Anderson retired from the military in 1972 with the rank of colonel. Once retired, he then became the manager for the McDonnell Aircraft Company’s test facility at Edwards Air Force Base, working there for more than a decade. In 1945, he married Eleanor Crosby. The two would stay together for seven decades; she died in 2015. By the time he reached his 100th birthday in 2022, Anderson was the last living triple ace from World War II.

In 2022, Anderson was given the honorary promotion to brigadier general. Charles Q. Brown, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then-Chief of Staff of the Air Force, led the ceremony. Anderson was re-inducted into the Air Force and given his last promotion.

“[Bud’s] kind of a wrecking ball of a guy and I think for many of us, probably wouldn’t want to have him behind us shooting us down—he had a distinguished career,” Brown said at the promotion ceremony. “It was really good to have a chance just to read through [some of Bud’s service records] and for me personally to reflect on the impact you had on our history of our Air Force.”

After the formal ceremony, the celebration with Anderson featured shots of Old Crow.

According to his official website, Bud Anderson is survived by his son Jim Anderson, daughter Kitty Burlington, four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

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