WWII fighter pilot, former CO of Naval Station Mayport dies at 91
The Florida Times-Union
“Feb. 22, 1945 … Strike on Iwo Jima.”
“March 1, 1945 … Strike on Okinawa.”
“May 4, 1945 … Shot down Zeke.”
Capt. Paul A. “Andy” Anderson boiled down his part in the climactic battles of the Pacific War to simple, three-word phrases scratched on the now-yellowed pages of his flight log book.
But this opening salvo would lead to a lifetime of service to his country — a life that ended Saturday at age 91.
Capt. Anderson grew up in Park River, N.D. His fascination with flying began with a lucky find in his uncle’s nearby farm.
The uncle had acquired a plane that once belonged to Carl Ben Eilson, a famed explorer of the Arctic and World War I pilot. The would-be pilot would climb into the
cockpit and dream of the day he would have his turn in the air.
In the meantime, he began building his own model planes, his brother Dave said, made mostly of balsa wood and paper but complete with gasoline motors.
His chance at the real thing finally came in an F6F Hellcat in the closing, savage battles of World War II. For his fighting in the skies over Iwo Jima, Okinawa and mainland Japan, off the carriers USS Yorktown and Essex, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross along with four Air Medals.
After the war, Capt. Anderson married his first wife and became one of the first jet-qualified pilots, helping the U.S. Navy enter the jet age.
After several other post-war assignments, in 1958 he was assigned to an obscure piece of New Mexico desert known as the Naval Air Special Weapons Facility.
At the now-infamous Nevada Test Site, he flew missions to test the effects of atomic radiation. Before the advent of reliable missile technology, the only means of delivering a nuclear bomb was by aircraft and it was his job to find out just how close the pilot could be to the blast.
Anderson and his detachment would fly over the bomb to a pre-determined distance when the bomb would be detonated. If the radiation detection devices strapped to various points on the pilots’ bodies showed “minor” levels, the next detonation would be closer still.
In the final hours of his life, he would tell his son Phil Anderson that the last flight he took was within 15,000 feet of a 1.7 megaton blast in June 1958 that burned the paint off his aircraft.
Finally, after 8,000 flight hours and 790 carrier landings, the naval aviator earned his sea legs and took command of the USS Mars during the Vietnam War.
Anderson moved on to his final, and favorite command, according to his wife, as commanding officer of Mayport Naval Station from 1971 to 1974. He hosted President Nixon numerous times.
“He said he and the president were on a first-name basis,” Phil Anderson said. “He joked, ‘I called him Mr. President and he called me Paul.’ ”
During his time at Mayport, Anderson fell in love with the area, his second wife, Rosina “Rosie” Anderson said. The two bought a beachfront home near the base and had lived there for 40 years.
His legacy is still felt at the base today, the current commanding officer, Capt. Wesley McCall, said.
“On the backside of Vietnam, that was a challenging time for the Navy,” McCall said. “His leadership prepared them for those challenges.”
After Anderson’s retirement from the Navy, the couple started Sandpiper Home & Patio Furnishings on Southside Boulevard, which remains in business.
Capt. Anderson leaves behind four children — daughters Nella and Pam and sons Paul and Phillip, the latter three choosing to follow their father’s footsteps in the Navy. Phillip went on to fly some later models of the same aircraft his dad flew.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 25, at Mayport Naval Station Chapel. The burial with full military honors will be at Jacksonville National Cemetery at 2:30 p.m.