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First Name: Rudolf

Last Name: Anderson

Birthplace: Spartanburg, SC, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Date of Birth: 15 September 1927

Date of Death: 27 October 1962

Rank: Major

Years Served:
Rudolf Anderson, Jr.

•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Rudolf Anderson, Jr.
Major, U.S. Air Force

Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was born on 15 September 1927 in Spartanburg, SC. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout from Troop 19, and graduated from Clemson University as a member of Detachment 770, Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps in 1948. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and, after completion of flight training, began his career flying F-86 Sabres.

Korean War

Anderson earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses for flying vital reconnaissance missions during the Korean conflict.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Lockheed U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft was originally flown by the Central Intelligence Agency. However, the U.S. Air Force took over the reconnaissance missions of Cuba on 14 October 1962, using CIA U-2 aircraft that were marked with USAF insignia. Anderson was part of the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Weather Squadron, 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, headquartered at Laughlin AFB, TX. On 15 October, 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.

As the 4080th Strategic Wing's top U-2 pilot, with over one thousand hours, Anderson became a vital part of the U.S. reconnaissance operations over Cuba in late October 1962.

On 27 October, Major Anderson took off in U-2F Serial Number 56-6676, Article 343, from a forward operating location at McCoy AFB in Orlando, FL. He was shot down by a Soviet-supplied S-75 Dvina (NATO designation SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missile near Banes, Cuba. "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, 28 October 1962.

Major Anderson was killed when shrapnel from the exploding proximity warhead punctured his pressure suit, causing it to decompress at high altitude. On 31 October, Acting United Nations Secretary U Thant, returning from a visit with Premier Fidel Castro, announced that Major Anderson was dead.

Although Major Anderson was the only combat fatality during the crisis, eleven crewmembers of three reconnaissance Boeing RB-47 Stratojets of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing were killed in crashes during the period between 27 September and 11 November 1962.

Air Force Cross

By order of President John F. Kennedy, Major Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross, the U.S. Air Force's second highest award for valor.

Citation: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr., United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a U-2 airplane 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.

Major Anderson was a Senior Pilot with over 3,000 hours flying time, of which over 1,000 hours were in the U-2 aircraft.

Medals and Awards

Air Force Cross
Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross (3 Awards)
Airman Medal (2 Awards)
Purple Heart
National Defense Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star
Korea Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star
United Nations Service Medal


Senior Pilot Badge

Major Anderson was also a posthumous recipient of the Cheney Award. The Cheney Award is an aviation award presented by the U.S. Air Force in memory of First Lieutenant William Cheney, who was killed in an air collision over Italy in 1918. It was established in 1927, and is awarded to an airman for an act of valor.


A memorial to Major Anderson was erected in the 1960s at Cleveland Park in Greenville, SC. No surplus U-2 aircraft was available at the time of its creation. Because Anderson flew the F-86 Sabre Jet in the Korean War, and it was his favorite airplane to fly, one was made a part of the memorial.

The auditorium for the 47th Operations Group at Laughlin AFB, TX, is named in his honor.

The Arnold Air Society Squadron at Clemson University is named in his honor.

Some of the wreckage of Major Anderson's U-2 aircraft can be found in three museums in Cuba. The engine and portion of the tail assembly from the U-2 is on display at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. The right wing, a portion of the tail assembly, and front landing gear are currently on display at the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, or La Cabaña, Havana. These were previously on display at the Museo del Aire, Havana. One of the engine intakes is at the Museo Girón at Girón village, in the province of Matanzas, at the entrance to Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs.

On 26 July 2011, Anderson was inducted into the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Distinguished Alumni in a ceremony at Maxwell AFB, AL, officiated by Lieutenant General Allen G. Peck, Commander, Air University.

In Film

The shooting down of Anderson's reconnaissance flight over Cuba is featured in the film Thirteen Days, with Chip Esten playing the role of Major Anderson.

Death and Burial

Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. died on 27 October 1962 when he was shot down over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He is buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville, SC.

Honoree ID: 2067   Created by: MHOH




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