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Old Crow Soars
By Frederick A. Johnsen
July 25, 2019 - The treasures at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019 aren't all mechanical. C.E. "Bud" Anderson proves that wherever he goes. Bud is a triple ace fighter pilot from World War II who is known for his gracious congeniality — unless you were a World War II German fighter pilot sharing the same airspace three-quarters of a century ago.
Bud chatted about his wartime experiences with a gathering at a Warbirds in Review session Tuesday. His presence filled the bleachers, which were bookended by a standing-room-only throng. Estimates ranged well more than 500 for the number of people who came to be in the presence of the leading living American fighter ace of World War II.
Bud's bona fides are impressive. He was a major in the U.S. Army Air Forces at age 22, flew 116 fighter missions in P-51 Mustangs over Germany, and is credited with downing 16-1/4 enemy aircraft; more on that fractional airplane later.
Listening to Bud Anderson telling stories is like chatting with your neighbor over the back fence. His easygoing style quickly put the huge audience at ease. He used the classic hand gestures of a fighter pilot, once pausing long enough to tell the crowd, "If I had to sit on these, I couldn't tell you this story."
In the months following the Normandy invasion in June 1944, Bud said the skills of surviving German pilots seemed diminished; many of the best had been downed. Bud watched as the pilot of a Luftwaffe Fw 190 ducked into a cloud deck instead of engaging his Mustang in combat. But the deck was thin, and from overhead, Bud could track the shape of the lurking Focke-Wulf. Soon the enemy fighter broke into the clear, and Bud took a shot. Ever the fighter pilot, Bud told the crowd, "I really felt sorry for him … for a millisecond or so." The Fw 190 flamed.
Asked about his reputation as a deflection shooter, Bud told the crowd about another high-stakes sortie where two flights of P-51s overtook a crippled B-17 over Germany. Bud determined to shepherd the B-17 to the French coastline and safety. Three Messerschmitt 109s set up for an attack on the Flying Fortress, oblivious to the escorting Mustangs. "We cut 'em off at the pass," Bud said, using vernacular only an American fighter pilot could claim. The Germans now engaged Bud and his compatriot Mustang pilots, and a classic circling dogfight ensued. Bud's hands banked as he told the audience, "I can't quite get in tight enough to get on his tail." Bud, an experienced bird hunter, pulled the nose of his P-51 tight enough to obscure the view of the enemy fighter in front of him. Bud fired his .50-caliber machine guns in a desperate chance at a blind shot and then maneuvered to see the German fighter "smoking coolant," he told the crowd.
Several times during Bud's remarks, his victories and occasionally self-deprecating humor elicited spontaneous laughter and applause across the Warbirds in Review ramp. Another story in his collection of exploits found Bud's Mustang in another turning death dance with a Messerschmitt, with the fighters perilously in the path of an oncoming formation of B-17s. Neither fighter pilot had the advantage as they circled. "You're just looking across at him, eyeball to eyeball," Bud said. "I'm hoping the B-17s don't go right through us," he said.
The German broke off the circle, and Bud faced him in a rapid head-on closure that afforded a quick shot from the Mustang's guns. Bud's wingman quickly confirmed the P-51 had destroyed the Messerschmitt, whose pilot was last seen bailing out.
The trip home found the P-51s high over a low-flying German He 111 bomber, possibly trying to avoid detection. Bud realized his wingman and others in the flight did not always get the shot opportunities he had, so Bud set up a practice gunnery formation, as each of the four P-51s made a sequential pass on the German bomber, which was hit and seen to crash-land on the verdant countryside. Each Mustang pilot got one-fourth of a victory claim for that action, but Bud wasn't through. He watched two Luftwaffe crewmen get out of the bomber. One broke into a run, and Bud told his audience, "I'm going to give this guy a thrill." He buzzed the running German and did a quick roll as he departed.
"I felt like me and that Mustang could take on anything Germany had," Bud said.
A standing ovation greeted Bud at the conclusion of his remarks. The sentiment from the audience was palpable. A genuine American hero — a witness to history that most people will never experience — had just shared his war stories in an offhand manner that no printed story can fully convey. There is an intrinsic, yet uncountable value to being in the presence of someone like Bud Anderson.