Rudolf Anderson

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Rudolf Anderson
Major Rudolf Anderson, USAF
Born(1927-09-15)September 15, 1927
Spartanburg, South Carolina, U.S.
DiedOctober 27, 1962(1962-10-27) (aged 35)
Near Banes, Cuba
Woodlawn Memorial Park
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service1951–1962
Rank Major
Unit4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Strategic Air Command
Battles/warsKorean War
Cuban Missile Crisis 
AwardsAir Force Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross (3)
Purple Heart
Cheney Award
Alma materClemson University, B.S. 1948
Spouse(s)Frances Jane (Corbett) Anderson[1]
Children2 sons, 1 daughter

Rudolf Anderson Jr. (September 15, 1927 – October 27, 1962) was an American Air Force major and pilot. He was the first recipient of the Air Force Cross, the U.S. military's and Air Force's second-highest award and decoration for valor. The only U.S. fatality by enemy fire during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Anderson died when his U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over Cuba. He had previously served in Korea during the Korean War.

Early life and education[edit]

Anderson was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina near Greenville.[2] He earned the rank of Eagle Scout from Boy Scout Troop 19 in Greenville and was a member of Recovery Lodge no. 31, Greenville's oldest Masonic Lodge. After graduating from Augusta Circle Elementary School in Greenville, he graduated from Greenville High School in 1944. In 1948, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Textile Engineering from Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina as a member of Air Force ROTC Detachment 770.[3][4] For the next three years, he was employed in Greenville.

Air Force career[edit]

He entered the Air Force in November 1951 during the Korean War.[2] Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1952, Anderson completed Primary and Advanced pilot training and received his U.S. Air Force aeronautical rating as a pilot; he received his pilot wings in February 1953. He began his operational career flying RF-86 Sabres and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses for reconnaissance missions after the war ended, when he was assigned to the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea and flying missions out of Komaki Air Base in Japan. In April 1955, he returned to the United States. After qualifying on the U-2 on September 3, 1957, "he became the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing's top U-2 pilot with over one thousand hours, making him a vital part of the United States' reconnaissance operation over Cuba in late October of 1962."[3]

Cuban Missile Crisis[edit]

Originally flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance missions over Cuba were taken over by the Air Force on October 14, 1962, using CIA U-2 aircraft that were repainted with USAF insignia. Anderson was part of the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Weather Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, headquartered at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. On October 15, when CIA analysts studied reconnaissance film from the first 4080th overflight, they found SS-4 medium-range ballistic missiles. These pictures triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On Saturday, October 27, Anderson took off on his sixth mission over Cuba in a U-2F Dragon Lady (AF Serial Number 56-6676, former CIA Article 343), from a forward operating location at McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando, Florida.[5] A few hours into his mission, he was shot down over Banes, Cuba by one of two Soviet-supplied S-75 Dvina (NATO designation SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missiles that were fired at his aircraft by the orders of two Soviet generals, stationed in Havana.[5]

"The loss of the U-2 over Banes was probably caused by intercept by an SA-2 from the Banes site, or pilot hypoxia, with the former appearing more likely on the basis of present information" stated a CIA document dated 0200 hrs, October 28, 1962.[6][7] This would mean Anderson was killed when fragmentation from the exploding proximity warhead punctured his pressure suit, causing it to decompress at high altitude.

On October 31, Acting United Nations Secretary-General U Thant returned from a visit with Premier Fidel Castro and announced that Anderson was dead.[8] His body was released by Cuba on Sunday, November 4,[9] and he was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville two days later.[1][10]

By order of President John F. Kennedy, Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross, as well as the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Cheney Award. On July 26, 2011, Anderson was inducted into the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Distinguished Alumni in a ceremony at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, officiated by Lieutenant General Allen G. Peck, Commander, Air University.[3]

Anderson was the only combat death among the eleven U-2 pilots that flew over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the other ten pilots were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[11] Three reconnaissance-variant Boeing RB-47 Stratojets of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing crashed between September 27 and November 11, 1962, killing a total of 11 crewmembers.[12] Seven more airmen died when a Boeing C-135B Stratolifter delivering ammunition to Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba stalled and crashed on approach on October 23.[13]


S-75 Dvina with V-750V 1D missile (NATO SA-2 Guideline) on a launcher. An installation similar to this one shot down Major Anderson's U-2 over Cuba.

Some of the wreckage of Major Anderson's aircraft is on display in three museums in Cuba. One of the engine intakes is at the Museo de la Lucha contra Bandidos in Trinidad. The engine and portion of the tail assembly from the U-2F is at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. The right wing, a portion of the tail assembly, and front landing gear are at the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, or La Cabaña, Havana. The two latter groups of parts were previously displayed at the Museo del Aire, Havana.

Military awards[edit]

Anderson's military awards and decorations are as follows:[14]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Width=44 scarlet ribbon with a central width-4 golden yellow stripe, flanked by pairs of width-1 scarlet, white, Old Glory blue, and white stripes
Bronze star
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Senior Pilot Badge
Air Force Cross
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 oak leaf clusters Purple Heart
Air Medal with 1 oak leaf cluster Presidential Unit Citation National Defense Service Medal with 1 bronze star
Korean Service Medal with 1 bronze star Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Air Force Longevity Service Award with 1 oak leaf cluster
Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Service Medal Republic of Korea War Service Medal

Air Force Cross citation[edit]

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Rudolf Anderson, Major, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Strategic Air Command (SAC), from 15 October 1962 to 27 October 1962. During this period of great national crisis, Major Anderson, flying an unescorted, unarmed aircraft, lost his life while participating in one of several aerial reconnaissance missions over Cuba. While executing these aerial missions, Major Anderson made photographs which provided the United States government with conclusive evidence of the introduction of long-range offensive missiles into Cuba and which materially assisted our leaders in charting the nation's military and diplomatic course. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Major Anderson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.[14]

Other awards, namings, memorials and recognitions[edit]

Memorial in Greenville, SC.
Plaque at Laughlin AFB, Texas.

Anderson's other recognitions:

  • Cheney Award, 1962
  • Anderson Elementary School at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska was named for him in 1964.[15]
  • The Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr. Squadron of the Arnold Air Society at Clemson University was named in his honor.[3][16]
  • American Legion Post 214 in Greenville, South Carolina, was named after him in 2015.
  • A memorial to Anderson was erected and dedicated to him in 1963 at Cleveland Park in Greenville. No surplus U-2 aircraft were available at the time, so an F-86 Sabre like the ones he flew in Korea was used instead: North American YF-86H-1-NA Sabre, AF Ser. No. 52-1976.[17] The memorial was redesigned, and it was rededicated on October 27, 2012, the 50th anniversary of Anderson's death.[18]
  • The building for the 47th Operations Group at Laughlin AFB, Texas, was renamed "Anderson Hall" in 2001.
  • Anderson was inducted in the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008.[19]
  • Anderson was inducted into the Greenville County Schools Hall of Fame in 2019.[20]

Popular culture[edit]

The shooting down of Anderson's U-2 reconnaissance flight over Cuba is featured in the 2000 film Thirteen Days starring Kevin Costner; actor Charles Esten plays the role of Anderson.[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Downed U2 pilot's funeral set today". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. November 6, 1962. p. 3.
  2. ^ a b South Carolina Aviation Association
  3. ^ a b c d Ceremony program, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Distinguished Alumni Induction, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, July 26, 2011, page 6.
  4. ^ Clemson Alumni Association, "Clemson Alumni: Today 2008", Harris Connect, Inc., Chesapeake, Virginia, 2007, page 1813.
  5. ^ a b HistoryNet
  6. ^ Central Intelligence Agency report – supplement 8 to Joint Evaluation of Soviet Missile Threat in Cuba, 0200 hours, October 28, 1962.
  7. ^ "Supplement B to Joint Evaluation of Soviet Missile Threat in Cuba" (PDF). Loss of U-2 Aircraft. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  8. ^ "U2 pilot is dead". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. November 1, 1962. p. 1.
  9. ^ "Final rites". Wilmington Morning Star. (North Carolina). (UPI photo). November 6, 1962. p. 1.
  10. ^ "Military rites held for U2 pilot killed on mission in Cuba". Wilmington Morning Star. (North Carolina). UPI. November 7, 1962. p. 11.
  11. ^ DefenseMediaNetwork
  12. ^ Lloyd, Alwyn T., "Boeing's B-47 Stratojet", Specialty Press, North Branch, Minnesota, 2005, ISBN 978-1-58007-071-3, page 178.
  13. ^ "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing C-135B Stratolifter 62-4136 Guantánamo NAS (NBW)". October 23, 1962.
  14. ^ a b Veteran Tributes
  15. ^ Anderson Elementary
  16. ^ "the Newsstand". Archived from the original on February 5, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  17. ^ "Rudolf Anderson Jr." Archived August 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine at Veteran Tributes
  18. ^ Burns, Amy Clarke. "Rudolf Anderson memorial to get redesign". Greenville News. Retrieved October 12, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ South Carolina Aviation Association [1] [2]
  20. ^ Greenville County Schools
  21. ^ Robb, David (2011). Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies. Prometheus. p. 19. ISBN 9781615924516.
  22. ^ "Chip Esten of TV series 'Nashville' to headline Riverfest". Associated Press. July 27, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  • Central Intelligence Agency report – supplement 8 to Joint Evaluation of Soviet Missile Threat in Cuba, 0200 hours, October 28, 1962.

External links[edit]