Rudolf Anderson was born on September 15, 1927, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Air Force on November 6, 1951, and was awarded his pilot wings and commission in 1952. Anderson served as a reconnaissance pilot flying F-86 Sabres during the Korean War, and later accumulated over 3,000 flying hours, with over 1,000 hours in the U-2 Dragon Lady. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Maj Anderson was flying U-2's with the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing out of Laughlin AFB, Texas. He was shot down and killed by a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile while flying a reconnaissance mission over Cuba on October 27, 1962. Maj Anderson was later posthumously awarded the first Air Force Cross. At the time of his death, he was married to the former Frances Jane Corbett and they had three children.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Rudolf Anderson, Major, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Strategic Air Command (SAC), from 15 October 1962 to 27 October 1962. During this period of great national crisis, Major Anderson, flying an unescorted, unarmed aircraft, lost his life while participating in one of several aerial reconnaissance missions over Cuba. While executing these aerial missions, Major Anderson made photographs which provided the United States government with conclusive evidence of the introduction of long-range offensive missiles into Cuba and which materially assisted our leaders in charting the nation's military and diplomatic course. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Major Anderson reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.