World War II Triple Ace Bud Anderson in His Own Words

Retired Col. Clarence “Bud” Anderson. Staff illustration by Mike Tsukamoto.

Retired Col. Clarence “Bud” Anderson, who was assigned to the 357th Fighter Group, was one of America’s top aces in the P-51 Mustang, scoring more than 16 kills and becoming a triple ace in World War II.

Mustangs helped ensure allied air superiority from 1944 through the end of the war. Their mission evolved from simply escorting bomber missions into Germany to, in the words of Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, “killing the Luftwaffe,” by aggressively pursuing any aircraft in the skies, whether or not they were attacking bombers. The steady and disastrous attrition of the Luftwaffe opened up avenues for the Allies to press on into Germany on the ground, unhindered by German air attack.

Anderson, 97, recently sat down for an extensive interview with Air Force Magazine’s John A. Tirpak, in which he discussed his early flight training, some of his flying experiences in Europe during the war, as well as his exploits in flight test and as a combat pilot in Vietnam.

One of the last remaining World War II Aces describes what it was really like to take on German fighters over Europe 75 years ago. Video by Mike Tsukamoto/staff

In this video, Anderson recounts how he trained in P-39 Cobras, and learned enroute to Europe that he’d be among the first combat pilots in the P-51. As a Mustang pilot, Anderson was among the first assigned to fly bomber escort, and he explains the shifting tactics of that period.

He recounts a battle in which he led P-51s (the best American fighter) against BF-109Gs (Germany’s best fighters) in a pitched, four-on-four battle, explaining how the P-51’s strengths could be employed to best effect against the BF-109G’s weaknesses. The video also includes footage of the aircraft Anderson flew and actual gun-camera film from the four-on-four mission.

After the war, he became a test pilot, ultimately flying more than 100 kinds of aircraft. In the Vietnam War, Anderson flew combat missions in the F-105 Thunderchief.

His 1990 autobiography, To Fly & Fight—Memoirs of a Triple Ace, was recently re-published with new photos and additional information. In 2008, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

This story has been updated to correctly describe retired Col. Clarence “Bud” Anderson’s place in history. Anderson is the leading living ace in the P-51 Mustang, having scored 16.25 kills. The 357th was initially part of 9th Air Force when it arrived in England, but shortly afterwards was moved to the 8th Air Force.