A 100-year-old World War II flying ace was promoted to the honorary rank of brigadier general by Gen. CQ Brown Jr., the Air Force chief of staff, on Friday during a ceremony in California.
Retired Col. Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson, an Army Air Forces veteran, flew 116 combat missions in the European theater and shot down 16 enemies in his P-51 Mustang named "Old Crow" with the 357th Fighter Group. He is the highest-scoring World War II flying ace and the only triple ace still alive today, according to the Air Force.
"He's kind of a wrecking ball of a guy," Brown said, referencing Anderson's career and service record, during the ceremony at the Aerospace Museum of California. "You had a pretty thick binder, and I was going through it and some of the print was faded ... but it was really good to have a chance just to read through and for me, personally, to reflect on the history of our Air Force and the impact you've had on our history."
A flying ace is typically defined as a pilot who shoots down five or more aircraft during aerial combat. Anderson has achieved that goal three times over, and is one of 14 living fighter aces out of a total of 1,447 that have been recognized in the U.S military, according to the Air Force.
During World War II, Anderson had two major combat tours taking on the Luftwaffe -- Nazi Germany's Air Force. He was an integral part of the 357th Fighter Group, 363rd Fighter Squadron, in the 8th Air Force, which was dubbed the "Yoxford Boys" -- named for a village near their base in the United Kingdom, according to a Veterans Affairs post about Anderson's life.
The "Yoxford Boys" destroyed upward of 600 enemy aircraft between 1943 and 1945, producing more than 40 flying aces among the group -- including Anderson.
His 30-year career in the service was filled with numerous decorations, including two Legion of Merits, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, 16 Air Medals, the French Legion of Honor, and the French Croix de Guerre, according to the Air Force.
Anderson also stands out as being a 100-year-old living veteran of World War II.
The number of living World War II veterans, who would later be dubbed members of "The Greatest Generation," are slowly fading away. According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 167,284 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2022.
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans -- which also tracks that veteran population -- estimates that number will dwindle to around 1,000 by 2034.
Anderson, clad in his Air Force dress blues, sat while he took his oath of office. The crowd stood up and erupted into applause after he finished reciting it.
"It's a little overwhelming for me," Anderson told the crowd at the Aerospace Museum of California during his brief remarks. "It truly blew my mind to see the chief of staff himself come to do this ... I do thank you very much."
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.