Robert Anderson played quarterback in the first ever Aztec Bowl, in 1936, before the team moved to Qualcomm Stadium in 1967. He was praised throughout college for his prowess as a quarterback and upon graduation he was offered contracts by three of the eight active NFL teams in the 1940s. He turned down the enormous opportunity, opting instead to fight for his country in World War II. It is because of this heroic sacrifice, and his life of incredible accomplishment, that he was honored on Veterans Day.
Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Anderson, who already had a pilot’s license, signed up with the Naval Aviation Office to fly F4U Corsairs, the fastest and most powerful aircrafts of their time.
“I already have a pilot’s license, just put me in a plane and I’ll go bomb them back,” Anderson reportedly told his enlisting officer.
He then informed the NFL teams of his decision against pursuing a professional football career. The general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers football club, Al Frazin, was more than understanding, keeping an open spot for Anderson.
“If, by chance, circumstances alter themselves so that you will be available, do not hesitate to contact this office immediately and we will send you a contract for your signature,” Frazin wrote.
Soon after, Anderson was sent to the Pacific where he fought in nearly every major battle on the Japanese front. On one memorable mission, he was escorting a bomber over Kyushu, a Japanese island, when he was hit with anti-aircraft fire and instructed to bail out of his plane to be picked up by a submarine. He refused to bail out because if the plane fell into the hands of the Japanese, they would be able to design a plane with the speed and capabilities of the American Corsair. Instead, he flew his injured plane with limited controls, without canopy or landing gear, 300 miles back to base in Okinawa where he crash-landed and walked away without a scratch.
He was highly decorated during his time serving in the war. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals and the Purple Heart. Clint Eastwood computer-generated Anderson’s squadron in “Flags of Our Fathers,” and Anderson autographed copies of the DVD, which were auctioned off to raise money for wounded marines recovering at Camp Pendleton.
Allie Dixon, Anderson’s granddaughter, said she does not remember her grandfather speaking negatively of his time spent serving his country.
“It must have been horrible living in the hot sun, drinking calcified water, eating rations and being kept awake all night by Japanese planes only to have to get up in the morning and fight,” Dixon said. “Yet, he never complained. He spoke of his time as a fighter pilot as a mission or as an adventure, but never as a chore or an obligation.”
Still serving in the war, Anderson married Ruth Edlefsen in 1942. She would go on to work at Harvard University in developing sonar. The two moved to Sacramento after Anderson returned from war where he remained in the Marine Corps Reserves serving as a test pilot and flight trainer.
Anderson was honored at last year’s Emmy Awards and was heralded as a pioneer of television during its early days. In the ‘50s, he hosted several shows, including “Farm and Home News with Bob Anderson” and “Sportfolio with Bob Anderson,” which was an acclaimed sports show during the early days of television.
It was during this time as a television host, writer and producer, while he was serving in the Marine Corps Reserves as a test pilot and combat trainer, that he was also attending the Pacific McGeorge School of Law at night. He worked briefly as an attorney before being elected to the state board of equalization as an administrative law judge.
He gained recognition for his ruling in a case involving televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Swaggart was “accepting donations” in exchange for religious items. Anderson ruled Swaggart had to pay sales tax on all merchandise sold in California. The case went to the Supreme Court (Jimmy Swaggart Ministries v. the Board of Equalization California), and upheld Anderson’s decision. He was even quoted in the majority opinion.
In 2007, Anderson was selected as a “Hero” of the San Diego County Fair. The fair featured a WWII-themed exhibit called “Salute To Heroes.”
Anderson passed away on October 29, 2009 at the age of 91. Last year, the California State Assembly passed a resolution in his honor detailing the accomplishments of his life.
Lt. Col. Anderson USMC was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with Full Military Honors, receiving the 21-gun salute. He was buried with three items: a bible, a copy of the program from his funeral service and a San Diego State University lapel pin. He has been honored by the U.S. Armed Forces, the Emmys and SDSU, however his grave sacrifice can never be honored to the fullest extent. This Veterans Day was for Anderson, and every other patriot who has served this country.
Multimedia: Video of F4U Corsairs in Action in WII (NOTE: Link opens to a separate site)