To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace
by U.S. Air Force Colonel Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson (ret.), with Joseph P. Hamelin
Sometimes you finish reading a memoir wishing that you knew the author better. With Bud Anderson’s brilliant To Fly and Fight, you finish feeling that you already know him—and even better, that you and he are buddies.
You won’t find lyrical writing here. Anderson’s words come at you like the .50-caliber bullets came from the wings of his P-51 Mustang: swift, accurate and directly to the point. Here is a sample from one of his tales of combat with a German Messerschmitt Me-109: “And suddenly he rolls and goes down. I follow him happily. He goes straight to the deck, 20,000 feet down at full power. Peeling off first, he has opened some distance between us. I’m closing it up, fire a burst, get some hits. He breaks hard, I go by and wheel about…I put a withering burst into him…the propeller flies off. The engine cowling is blown away. Then off comes the canopy and out comes the pilot.” You can almost sense Anderson’s hands in motion, reenacting the dogfight as he tells the tale.
Anderson is most famous as a Mustang pilot. His 357th Fighter Group introduced the Merlin-powered P-51B into its key role as long-range escort fighter. Anderson ran up a score of 161⁄4 victories, all single-engine fighters. Remarkably, he himself never was struck by an enemy bullet in aerial combat, nor was he ever fired upon. This was no accident. Rather, it shows how his careful planning enabled him to impose his skills upon the enemy.
You learn within the first few pages that Anderson is a modest but confident man who gauges his capabilities and his limitations precisely. It is also immediately evident that he is a patriot of the first order, who knows his duty and does it without regard to the odds. Anderson always clearly understood what the dangers of combat and experimental test flying were, and flew, fought and tested to the best of his considerable ability. He also lived harder than his loving wife Eleanor might have wished, drinking as pilots customarily drank in those days, even naming his aircraft Old Crow after the famous whiskey. And long before it became a widespread practice, Bud souped-up his cars and raced them, just as hot pilots are supposed to do.
Anderson begins with heartwarming tales of his early farming days in California, giving clear evidence of his pride in and love for his family. He then traces his brilliant career in aviation that began with a hop with his Dad in a Stearman. He flew two tours in Mustangs over Germany and another 25 missions in the Republic F-105 during the Vietnam War, commanding the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing. Stateside he undertook extraordinarily demanding test flying, becoming an expert in the dangerous experiments with “parasite” fighters.
As might be imagined, Anderson was frustrated by assignments in the Pentagon. Incredibly, given his record, he was passed over for flag rank, almost certainly because he eschewed the requisite politics. After his retirement, he went on to do consulting work in the aviation industry.
“Bud,” as he prefers to be called, continues to fly, demonstrating his skills in a lovingly restored P-51D painted in his own Old Crow colors.
As aptly as Anderson describes flying and combat, he is even better at revealing the true nature of the many personalities he encountered. His good friend Chuck Yeager fares well at his hands, even in the course of a story about both of them falling asleep in a C-45.
Anderson deals harshly with deskbound bureaucracy, but most people win his highest accolade: “He was a good guy.” And when you finish this book you would like him to award you the same title.
Originally published in the January 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.