After high-altitude reconnaissance flights over Cuba in October 1962, Maj. Rudolf Anderson returned with pictures of ballistic missile sites and nuclear storage facilities under construction. President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation Oct. 22 and six tense days followed. While negotiations between the two superpowers were still under way, Major Anderson attempted another reconnaissance run and his U-2 was shot down and he was killed.
Because of the classified nature of his work, Major Anderson belonged to a select group of unheralded and unrecognized reconnaissance pilots. By personal direction of the president, Major Anderson was posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross. At the time, the Bronze Star was the highest combat decoration that could be made for Cold War action. He was also posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Cheney Award.
Air Force U-2 pilots of Strategic Air Command's 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing flying out of Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, played a major role in preventing a global war. In the summer of 1962, shipments of people and equipment from the USSR to Cuba increased dramatically. Despite Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev's denial, President Kennedy directed SAC to begin U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance flights over the island. The U-2 flights were made by Major Anderson and Maj. Richard S. Heyser. Later, flights were flown by RF-101s.
Major Anderson lost his life on Oct. 27, 1962, when his U-2 aircraft was shot down by a SA-2 missile during a photo reconnaissance run.
Anderson was a Greenville, S.C., native and was a graduate of Clemson University before joining the Air Force.