Major Rudolph Anderson

Major Rudolf Anderson was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1927. His family relocated to Greenville, where he graduated from high school. In 1948, he earned his degree in textile engineering from Clemson Agricultural College and joined the Air Force in 1951, graduating from flight school in 1953.

Upon graduation, he was assigned to the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, based in Kimpo, Korea, where he flew the RF-86 over denied territories of the Soviet Union and the Republic of China. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters.

In 1957, Major Anderson was selected to fly the top-secret, high-flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, often flying at altitudes higher than 72,000 feet for extended periods of time.

During the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Major Anderson made the second U-2 flight over Cuba on October 15th, 1962. His photographs showed additional Russian surface to air missile sites (SAMS) were under construction. On October 25th, 1962, Captain Eugene Mellmoyle was flying over Banes, Cuba when two surface to air missiles were fired at him but missed. Although the U-2 missions were temporarily halted over Cuba, Major Anderson volunteered to fly a special mission on Saturday, October 27th, 1962, to determine the status of the missile sites. It was during this flight that two ballistic missiles were fired and smashed into his U-2 plane, killing Major Anderson and destroying the aircraft.

The downing of Major Anderson’s U2 aircraft prompted President John F. Kennedy to warn Premier Nikita Khrushchev that “strong and overwhelming retaliatory action would be taken unless he received immediate notification that all missiles were being withdrawn from the island of Cuba.”

Within 24 hours of Major Anderson’s death, Premier Khruschev told President Kennedy all missiles would be withdrawn.

For his supreme sacrifice, Major Anderson was awarded the first Air Force Cross, the Purple Heart and the Cheney Award. All of Major Anderson’s service metals are on display in The Cecil D. Buchanan Museum of Military History, located at Post 214 in Taylors, SC.

Major Anderson’s body was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery in Greenville, SC. In addition to the American Legion Post 214 being named after Major Anderson, there is a mounted Air Force jet in Cleveland Park, Greenville, SC honoring his sacrifice.

Dedication of Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. Memorial in Cleveland Park was held on November 6, 2012 – the video is 21 minutes long.