Edward Rutledge Anderson
US Navy, USS Enterprise – Radioman and Gunner
World War II – Battle of Midway (1941-1945)
Edward Anderson is an accomplished flyer and the survivor of numerous bombing missions and scouting hops in the Pacific during World War II. A rear gunner with Bombing Squadron Six, Anderson is one of the few San Francisco Bay Area survivors of the Battle at Midway. Albeit a kind and courteous man, Anderson had survival skills that helped him overcome the tragedies of battle. With little, if no flight training, he flew across the Pacific and clocked the hours of a veteran flying ace. Ever the humble man, Anderson said of the Battle at Midway, “We were there when we had to be and we did what we had to do.”
Edward Rutledge Anderson was born on January 26, 1917 in Inglenook, Alabama. He spent his formative years in this suburb of Birmingham, Alabama and was the son of Viorene Morris and William Locke Anderson. Anderson had only one sibling, Carey Inez. He recalled life in the country with much fondness and loved to roam the countryside and “have adventures.” Anderson had a carefree childhood and loved it. In 1919, his parents divorced and in 1924, his mother remarried. At the age of seven, Anderson, his mother, and stepfather relocated to Southern California where his stepfather was employed with an oil company. On the road trip to California, Anderson learned much about his new stepfather and enjoyed a “wild adventure” riding on the running board of the family’s Studebaker touring sedan.
Anderson and his family settled in the town of Lennox, just south of Los Angeles, during the height of the Depression. In 1929, his older sister joined the family in Lennox. He attended Inglewood High School and in his junior year, his family relocated to Portland, Oregon. Anderson was able to complete high school with his class and stay in California thanks to the generosity of family friends, the Lynchs. He enjoyed his high school years and excelled at sports. The highlight of Anderson’s youth was the ability to scrape together enough money to purchase a motorcycle and a sailboat. In 1936, he graduated from Inglewood High School and was hired by the California Automobile Association. In July 1941, with a war looming in the future, and after reading an article about Navy incentives to train as radiomen, Anderson enlisted in the Navy. He had no interest in being drafted into the Army and “marching around through the mud.”
Anderson was in the Navy’s first class of radiomen. His training consisted of four months of Morse code, radio technology and naval communications procedures. However, he received no training regarding naval procedures and never attended basic training. Anderson graduated in September 1941 with a rank of Radioman 3rd Class, a fast tracked rank due to his participation in the first class of radiomen. He was assigned to the USS Enterprise and sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Anderson recalled with chagrin that while he looked like a seasoned sailor, he was merely a grunt that suffered from terrible bouts of seasickness. Anderson also noted that he had to endure the resentment of the other sailors aboard the Enterprise because he had received a rank that took many sailors years to obtain.
In the fall of 1941, as part of the build up to America’s involvement in World War II, the mission of the USS Enterprise was to shuttle Army Air Force P-39s, P-40s, and Navy planes from west coast ports to Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and Guam. On November 28th, the USS Enterprise departed for a last mission ferrying Marine fighter pilots and their planes to Wake Island. Fortunately for Anderson, the USS Enterprise was held up in bad weather and she missed her scheduled return of December 6th to Pearl Harbor. The USS Enterprise was only 150 miles west of the Harbor when the Japanese dropped the first bomb on December 7th, 1941.
After the initial attack on Pearl Harbor, Anderson’s squadron was ordered to launch their aircraft immediately and pursue the Japanese. However, when he went to board his Douglas “Dauntless” SBD, Anderson claimed another man was already in the seat. He would end up being one of the lucky few that survived that day. Many of the aircraft launched from the Enterprise never returned. The carrier was thereafter ordered to seek out and attack the six Japanese fleet carriers. Due to bad guesses and faulty intelligence, however, the Enterprise never caught up with the Japanese fleet. At dusk on December 8th, the USS Enterprise crept into the harbor, low on fuel and morale. Anderson recalled somberly that, “the sailors, many with tears in their eyes, lined the rails to view the smoldering destruction that once was the mighty US fleet.”
Shortly thereafter, Anderson was assigned as an aircraft handler to the Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6), where he pushed planes by hand around the USS Enterprise deck. The early months of the war found Anderson in the aviation repair shack, learning how to affix bombs to the SBDs. As a rated radioman, Anderson hoped for a flight assignment as a radioman-gunner in one of the squadron’s SBD dive bombers. He had not yet qualified as a gunner and had no flight training. In January 1942, Anderson got his break and was assigned to the plane handling crew. His work days began at 3:30 am and lasted sixteen to seventeen hours. Anderson noted, “He was often so exhausted that he thought his legs might give out.” Throughout it all, from the initial attacks on Pearl Harbor to flying his own bombing missions, Anderson kept a detailed account of every plane crashed or lost at sea, recording faithfully the names of the pilots and rear-gunners whose lives were lost. Despite the tragedies and dangers around him, Anderson wanted a flight assignment, and on March 10, 1942, his wish was granted.
Anderson claimed he received no training. “I just got in the back seat and we took off. My training was my first flight on April 1, 1942.” His pilot was Ensign Lewis A. Hopkins who, according to Anderson, “was fresh out of Pensacola, but a very good pilot and a swell fellow personally.” For one month, Hopkins and Anderson trained in a VB-6 by practicing dive bombing and gunnery at Ewa Field near Pearl Harbor. The USS Enterprise next accompanied the USS Hornet on a secret mission under the command of Jimmy Doolittle to top secret targets in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The USS Enterprise was laden with sixteen B-25 bombers. As the carrier neared the launch point, it was spotted by the Japanese, and the planes had to be launched quickly. Anderson and Hopkins, upon completion of the mission, barely made it back in one piece to the carrier. “We barely caught the last wire and the plane had to be junked,” noted Anderson. This, however, wasn’t a surprise because a majority of the flying teams only had an average of four hours of flying time.
In late May, only a short time after the Doolittle raid, news was received of a fast approaching Japanese fleet. It was clear that a battle was imminent. Provisions, fuel and ammunition were stockpiled on ships in Pearl Harbor as the American military began to prepare for what would be the Battle at Midway. On May 27th, the USS Enterprise left Pearl Harbor and the air group later flew aboard in preparation for the looming attack. The next day, the USS Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown were all informed that a large Japanese fleet was converging on Midway and they were to intercept it. These three aircraft carriers were loaded with a total of 234 planes and surrounded by cruisers and destroyers. The rendezvous point was to be Point Luck located midway between two islands, Sand Island and Eastern Island, halfway between California and Japan. Sand Island was only two miles long and occupied by the U.S. Navy and Marine command posts. Gun emplacements lined the beaches ready for attack. On the nearby Eastern Island, the U.S. had stockpiled 120 planes, PT boats, booby traps, barbwire and sand bags. In just two short weeks, the U.S. military was able to fortify its stronghold on the islands and prepare for the Japanese invasion. In the first week of June 1942, the Japanese arrived with four aircraft carriers, seven battleships, ten cruisers, sixteen submarines, forty five destroyers, and five thousand troops. The Battle at Midway was to be one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific and lasted four days.
On June 4, 1942, the Japanese air assault began on Sand and Eastern Islands. The antiquated American planes were no match for the Japanese Zeroes. The Zero was considered to be the fastest and most invincible plane at the time with a 12:1 kill rate in dogfights. In fact, the Zero was considered so formidable that, the official American strategy for pilots attacked by the Zero was, to “run away.” While the Zeroes assaulted the islands, the Japanese carriers were arming fighters to attack the American fleet. Not to be outdone, the American Commanders of the three carriers strategized to attack the Japanese when their planes refueled and were the most vulnerable. The U.S. carriers launched every available plane at the Japanese fleet and then followed with dive bombers to attack the Japanese carriers Kaga, Akagi and Soryu.
Anderson was part of this dive bombing onslaught on the Japanese fleet. He recalled “standing watch that night before the attack in an atmosphere of nervous excitement, with every man clutching any object that resembled a gun.” According to Anderson, his VB-6 Dauntless was armed with a 1,000 pound bomb and two one hundred pound bombs. After launching from the USS Enterprise, they headed 240 degrees and began to climb to altitude. They turned on their oxygen at thirteen thousand feet and the elements of the high altitude was quite punishing. Anderson further explained that by “nineteen thousand feet they were cold, very cold.” Anderson also explained that he only wore a lightweight summer flying suit and had forgotten his winter flying boots. His feet were numb and the only warmth he had was from beating his hands together. His job was to watch for enemy fighters and be prepared to dive at any time. The flights were long and oxygen sometimes ran low which resulted in impaired cognitive function and drowsiness.
After three hours of flying, Anderson claimed they emerged over the Japanese fleet and he could see anti-aircraft fire. “We spotted these dots on the horizon that ended up being the Japanese fleet,” he said. Anderson expected to see the Zeros any second, but they never appeared. Fortunately for Anderson and the dive bombers, they were not detected until they were directly overhead. Anderson explained that “his VB-6 went into a steep glide down to twelve thousand feet, lined up to attack the enemy carriers, opened up their dive brakes, and went down at an angle of seventy degrees and attacked the Kaga which was already on fire from the stern.” As he released a bomb and they pulled out of the dive, Anderson noticed two bombs hit the flight deck of his plane. “The flame and debris shot hundreds of feet into the air. It was a sight I’ll never forget,” he exclaimed. Anderson further claimed that after the pullout, “they were doing two hundred knots, and a Zero made a run on them on the port beam.” Anderson warded the Zero off with blasts from his twin .30 caliber machine guns while his pilot dove for the water. With the assistance of anti-aircraft bursts from a battleship below, they were able to withdraw. Anderson urged his pilot, Lewis Hopkins, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Although return fire nicked his plane, and a large piece of shrapnel landed inside, Anderson and Hopkins were not wounded. Anderson kept the shrapnel as his souvenir of the war. Shortly thereafter, Anderson and Hopkins joined up in a formation of four SBDs from their squadron and flew back to the USS Enterprise. “I was plenty worried about our gas situation,” Anderson noted, “but we came in and landed aboard without a single scratch, or hole in our plane.” For his efforts in this battle, Anderson earned the first of his Distinguished Flying Cross medals.
Although this attack on the Japanese fleet lasted only five minutes, it is said to be the most devastating and decisive attack in the history of war at sea. The Japanese lost three carriers and later, American dive-bombers would sink the Hiryu. In total, the Japanese lost four carriers and three thousand troops. The Americans lost three hundred forty nine men. Anderson claimed that he knew that “the Japanese losses were so great that this would be a turning point in our favor for a final victory.” He was correct. The Japanese were so stunned in their defeat that they retreated, leaving Midway unconquered.
Anderson continued to fly with the USS Enterprise Air Group. His next big battle was over Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 where he bombed targets along the beach to clear a path for the 1st Marine Division. Also in the air during this attack was Japanese flying ace, Saburo Sakai. Sakai was infamous in Japan for his shooting accuracy. In fact, at that point, Sakai had personally shot down forty two allied aircraft. While the SBD dive bombers, including Anderson, were awaiting instructions as they circled the island of Tulagi off of Guadalcanal, Sakai charged them hoping to take out at least two of the planes in a single pass. According to Anderson, “Sakai peeled off and started his run and opened fire on his plane.” Sakai quickly learned that he was not attacking fighters, but rather dive bombers. He opened fire on Anderson and the others, while they returned fire with their .30 caliber machine guns. Sakai was only one hundred feet away and then, “his cockpit exploded, the canopy tore, the plane went almost vertically upwards and fell smoking. That was the last I saw of him,” exclaimed Anderson.
Anderson later participated in the attacks on Japanese carriers at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. When the USS Enterprise was sent to Noumea for repairs, Anderson was transferred to Guadalcanal to fly with the “Cactus Air Force.” Over the next two years, Anderson would fly more than one hundred twenty combat missions in the South Pacific, including the raid on the Marshall Gilbert Islands. He regularly exchanged fire with the ever powerful Zeroes, which Anderson claimed “caused damage to more than one of his planes.” Anderson also remembered flying numerous scary missions including one where his plane had to be abandoned in the ocean and he had to rescue his unconscious pilot, Lewis Hopkins.
While in his first tour of duty in the South Pacific, Anderson advanced to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. Later, he left the USS Enterprise and was assigned to a naval station in Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, he learned of a new squadron being formed, quickly joined, and was sent for a second tour of duty in the South Pacific with a land based combat team. The goal of this unit, Anderson claimed, “Was to neutralize the Japanese airfield on the island of Rabaul.” In his third year of service, Anderson was again reassigned and sent to San Diego to train new Navy enlistees. He was awarded the rank of Aviation Chief Radioman. In 1943, during his leave in San Diego, Anderson met his future bride, Joyce Hubbard, whom he later married in 1944. Anderson was honorably discharged from the Navy in September 1945. He was eventually awarded seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Presidential Unit Citation, an Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign Medal, the American Defense Medal, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, and twenty four Air Medals for his extraordinary service. Anderson, however, feels that he does not deserve special accolades for his role in the victory at Midway. “We were there when we had to be,” Anderson noted quietly and “We did what we had to do.”
After the war, Anderson attended college at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles while working for Pacific Electric Transportation, a streetcar company owned by Southern Pacific Railroad. Although his goal was to be a lawyer, the obligation to care for his growing family and the pressures of work forced him to leave school after two years. He claimed that, “this was my only regret in life, not getting a college degree.” After working with Pacific Electric Transportation for several years, Anderson was promoted to Claims Adjuster in charge of handling railroad accidents for Southern Pacific Railroad and relocated from Southern California to Bakersfield. Anderson quickly rose through the ranks within Southern Pacific and was known for his attention to detail. Anderson and his family relocated to the Bay Area and lived in Palo Alto and Los Altos until his retirement in 1982, after thirty five years with Southern Pacific.
In retirement, Anderson continued to remain active with hobbies like photography and sailing. He also became involved with charitable organizations, including the Sons in Retirement, where he served as President for several terms. In his golden years, Anderson and his wife relocated to San Rafael, California where he continued to pursue his hobbies and involvement with the Sons in Retirement. One of the highlights of Anderson’s retirement is his annual participation in the San Francisco Marine Memorial Club’s Commemoration of the Battle at Midway. This Naval Order of the United States sponsored dinner aims “to recognize the service and contributions that the members of the Greatest Generation have made for us and the sacrifices their families made for us during the war, and also … to reinforce our heritage and pass it on from generation to generation.” “The Battle at Midway also serves as a cherished symbol of what this nation can attain through the efforts of its extraordinary people,” notes Vice Admiral Architzel, Commander, Naval Air Systems Command.
Edward Anderson, ever the humble man, rarely speaks about his service, or heroic contributions at the Battle at Midway. He feels that his story is no different from any other man of his generation. “That’s the way it was. All of the men were in the service, and the women were on the home front,” stated Anderson. Like many men of the Greatest Generation, Edward Anderson served his country and supported his family without question. Anderson said it best himself, “I did my job. I hope I did it well.”
Narrative by Nicholas Elsbree on November 4, 2013.