By Frederick A. Johnsen
Bud Anderson has legions of friends and fans at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021. Hundreds of them came to hear Anderson talk about his exploits in various P-51 Mustang fighters during World War II over Europe. When it was announced that Col. Anderson would not be traveling from California to Oshkosh this year, any momentary disappointment the crowd felt was buoyed by word that he would appear via Zoom call. Everybody kept their seats. At that moment, the respect Bud Anderson has earned was palpable in the Warbirds in Review area.
Bud Anderson was joined by Warbirds in Review founder Connie Bowlin and P-51 owners and pilots Jim Hagedorn, Jack Roush, and Ray Fowler, who shared the ramp with three P-51 Mustangs painted in markings pertinent to Anderson’s history. Connie assured the audience that Bud is in good health, but his family in California is being “very, very careful” about traveling now.
After discussing what it’s like to be a steward of a restored Mustang, the panel and the audience turned to the Jumbotron as Bud joined in the discussion. Bud said he did not gain his first aerial victory as soon as some of his squadron contemporaries. “I’m kinda wondering if I’m cut out for this,” he told the audience.
Once, on the long return flight from Berlin, Bud caught sight of a straggler B-17. “He has a couple engines smoking bad,” Anderson told his long-distance audience. So Bud and about a half-dozen other Mustang pilots nosed down to give the friendly bomber escort to the coast. Without seeing the arriving American fighters, three German Messerschmitt Bf 109s rolled in to attack the B-17. “We cut ’em off at the pass,” Bud said. “I started to get into a turning dogfight with one of the 109s.” Because Bud had dropped to a lower altitude to help the B-17, he and the adversarial Bf 109 were at a lower altitude that improved the Messerschmitt’s handling qualities, making it a closer match to the vaunted Mustang, he explained.
Rat-racing in a circle, neither fighter could achieve a shot at the other. Bud decided to pull even tighter and lead the German fighter more. He fired a burst of .50-caliber machine gunfire into space, hoping his calculated lead would pay off. Smoke issued from the Messerschmitt. “It’s a gray smoke,” Bud explained, indicating the German fighter’s liquid cooling system was hit. The enemy pilot bailed out.
The appearance of another Mustang near Bud’s aircraft gave Anderson pause — had the other pilot made the victory shot? None of Bud’s compatriots saw the fight, and nobody could confirm the victory. Back on the ground, the pilots typically streamed into the officers club. On his way, Bud pondered how he would approach the other pilot he saw near the Messerschmitt action. No need to worry. Upon seeing Bud enter the room the other aviator animatedly congratulated Anderson, saying, “It was the greatest shot I ever saw!” Bud told his rapt AirVenture audience: “I rushed to the phone and claimed my first kill.”
Bud spoke well of his crew chiefs. He picked his first one while they were still in stateside training. His ground crew did what they could to keep his Mustang in top flying condition. When Bud noticed that camouflaged P-51s like his stood out against the snowy ground over Europe in the winter of 1944, but newer silver Mustangs were harder to see, he mentioned to his crew chief that he would like to have the paint stripped. Bud figured that would happen the next time his P-51 was in for maintenance.
The next morning, Bud told the audience, he surmounted a revetment in time to see his ground crew standing at a semblance of attention beside a freshly stripped aluminum fighter — a herculean effort in a short time. “That was the way they could make their contribution to the war effort,” Bud explained.
“I can’t say enough about the crew chiefs of the world,” Bud added. “Pat them on the back!”
And then it was time to close Bud’s Zoom participation. His smiling visage on the Jumbotron reflected the goodwill of the audience at AirVenture.
Clarence “Bud” Anderson achieved 16-and-1/4 aerial victories during World War II, including a shared enemy bomber with three other P-51 pilots. Today he is the leading living American ace.
The other panelists at AirVenture discussed their relationships with the P-51 Mustang. When owner Jack Roush considered selling a precious P-51 to fighter pilot Jim Hagedorn, Hagedorn said Roush interviewed him, telling Jim he would be a steward of the fighter. Hagedorn worked his way through other taildragger aircraft, culminating in dual time with Stallion 51 before taking on his own P-51.
Jim called the Mustang “the most honest airplane ever,” while noting “the Mustang will bite you if you let it.” Jack Roush, with more than 1,100 flight hours in the P-51, recalled how important it was for him to get Mustang wisdom from flyers like Connie and Ed Bowlin “to protect the airplane from you and protect you from yourself.” Ray Fowler talked about flying formation with younger Mustang pilots. The fraternity of warbird pilots is a grooming place for those who will steward these valuable and iconic fighters into the future.