Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr.

Robert "Gonzo" Gonzales

As the only pilot having been shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis at the age of 35, sure seems as if Air Force Major Rudolph Anderson, Jr. and his missions are still top secret to this day. Little has been written about Major Anderson and how he gave his life during the Cuban Missile Crisis-an event called the most tense time of U.S. military history. While Major Anderson knew that he was going on top secret missions that even sometimes the President never knew about, he and 11 other pilots went about knowing that the public will never know who was behind the entire risky photographic missions until tragedy strikes a hero soon to be forgotten. His last mission was one he had volunteered for.

Anderson service photo

Rudolph Anderson Jr. was born September 15, 1927 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He actually grew up in Greenville, South Carolina where he would spend the rest of his childhood and high school years. Greenville was a big textile city with some of the nation's largest textile mills on the western edge in the l930's. Textile work attracted more than 40,000 workers to the Greenville area.1 Anderson's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Anderson (Sr.), still live and reside at 6 Tomassece Ave. Greenville, South Carolina.2

Anderson attended Greenville High School and graduated in 1944 where he would soon enroll at Clemson College. He served in the Air Force R.O.T.C. while at Clemson. By the time his college career was up he had earned a spot in Clemson's elite Senior Platoon. He graduated in 1948 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in textile engineering. He was also active; he played softball for Methodist Church on Buncombe Street and there is also pictures taken of him as a kid in Boy Scout Troop 19 at Camp Old Indian.3 Among his service schools he attended was Squadron Officers School at Air University and graduated April 1957. After college he worked as a civilian for about 3 years as a cost accountant for Dungan Mills, Greenville, S.C.4

On November 6, 1951 Rudolph Anderson, Jr. took the oath of enlistment which states:

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic; That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; And that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God.5

Major Anderson lived up to that oath, and eventually gave his life fulfilling it.

Anderson started off as a student pilot and graduated in February of 1953. Six months later he would be flying reconnaissance missions in Korea and Japan. He flew the Rf-86 Saberjet recon aircraft taking surveillance photographs for the U.S. dtuing the Korean conflict. He served in Korea from October 1953 to April 1955 which led him to receive the Korean Service Medal. One month later he would be stationed at Larson AFB, Washington flying the Rf-84 Thunderflash reconnaissance plane which could also be used as a light tactical bomber. He remained there from May 1955 till May 1957 where he would be assigned to fly and operate the U-2A and the U-2C (the plane he was shot down in) out ofthe 4080th Strategic Recomiaissance wing at Laughlin AFB. On the day of October 15, 1962, while flying a top secret mission code-named G3102V, Maj. Anderson became the second pilot to photograph the Soviet's highly secret SS-4 Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM) at San Cristobal.

The U-2 reconnaissance airplane was a high altitude, single man, unescorted, unarmed, slow moving jet that could soar well above 72,000 feet and could take pictures of a persons shoe lace and being able to tell if they were untied or not. The cameras could make out unbelievable detail, and the U-2 itself could reach 75,000 feet easy. They could also be hand launched. Chapman told me that the wheels that support the wings fall off as soon as the plane lifted in the air. Alter some missions they would not have enough time to replace the wheels under t.he wing so they just decided to try to hand launch one. A11 the aircraft needed was a little speed to get going by them self.6

U-2 in flight

Maj. Anderson flew several missions after the 15th of October. Then on October 27, 1962 Rudy Anderson, Jr. had volunteered to be on stand by in case he was needed. He was later sent to cover Banes, Cuba where the Soviets had an MRBM site under construction. This was the same area where he was tired upon by SA-2s three days earlier. Maj. Anderson was killed around 10:19 Cuban time, by debris of an exploding Surface-to-air-missile that was aimed with a proximity fuse that spayed shrapnel and penetrated his pressure suit. That day was to become kown as "Black Saturday." President John Kennedy wrote a letter to Mrs. Anderson in regards to her husband's death and service.

Major Anderson was a senior pilot who had over 3,000 flying hours and over 1,000 in the U-2.7 Major Anderson was honored by a school in Arkansas in his name which was built in 1963 and opened in 1964.8 His military decorations include the Cheney Award*, Korean Service Metal, U.N. Service Metal, Purple Heart*, Distinguished Flying Cross w/3 (1*) oak leaf clusters, Air Metal, Distinguished Service Metal*, Air Force Cross*. (The asterisks indicate that those items were awarded posthumous1y.)9

His wife, Frances Jane Corbett, resided at 9009 B Arants, LAFB during the crisis and was born in Willacoochee, Georgia. Major Anderson, at the time of his death, left behind 3 children Rudolf Anderson 3rd (age 5), James B. Anderson (age 3), and Robin Anderson (unborn). She later moved to Pearson, Georgia after his death.10

In 2001 the Air Force honored Major Anderson with the renaming of Laughlin Air Force Base's operations building to Anderson Hall. "I can't tell you why it's taken 39 years to honor Major Anderson," former Laughlin Wing Commander Colonel Rick Rosborg said at the opening ceremonies that day. The Major's children Jim Anderson and Robyn Anderson Lorys attended the ceremonies. Rudy Anderson 3rd, his eldest son was not able to make the ceremonies that day. Robyn's husband, Steven Lorys and her children Anna and Christian also attended. During the ceremony Anderson's 7 year old granddaughter Anna gave an amazing unexpected speech.11 Anderson Hall is where the undergraduate pilots train to become the best pilots in the world. Major Rudolph Anderson, Jr. and many pilots in the past that have given there life under enemy fire is a reminder to all pilots how important there job is, the dangers that lay ahead, and the reason they train and prepare for everyday, to protect what our founding fathers created and risked there lives for ...... Our Freedom and Our Future.

1 "Historic Greenville," (
2 Plaque dedicated in 2001 at Anderson Hall, Laughlin Air Force Base.
3 Jeanne Brooks, "Piloting a Hero Home," Greenville News, October 13, 2002,
4 Plaque dedicated in 2001 at Anderson Hall, Laughlin Aif Force Base.
5 Linda Card, "Lest we Forget The Oath,", July 23, 2004,
   ([no longer an active link].
6 TSgt (ret.) Glenn R. Chapman, U-2 camera mechanic and author of Me and U-2: My Afair With Dragon Lady,
   conversation with Robert Gonzales.
7 Plaque dedicated in 2001 at Anderson Hall, Laughlin Air Force Base.
8 "Anderson Elementary: Anderson Elementary's History,"
   ([the history link is no longer an active link].
9 Plaque dedicated in 2001 at Anderson Hall, Laughlin Air Force Base.
10 Plaque dedicated in 2001 at Anderson Hall, Laughlin Air Force Base.
11 Joe Hyde, "Laughlin AFB honors Cold War U-2 Pilot," delriolivecom, October 27, 2001,
   ([no longer an active link].