CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Charles Anderson was born in Rockaway Beach, New York in January, 1925. His father served as an infantry sergeant in World War I, establishing a family military heritage. On December 7, 1941, Anderson was a high school senior. He was drafted after his graduation in 1942 as an eighteen-year-old. Anderson said that he felt at the time that it was his “time to go.” He believed that his youth gave him a “gung ho” attitude to be happy about being drafted and experiencing something new. Anderson was assigned to the Army Air Forces.
Anderson’s basic training was conducted at “Camp Boardwalk” in Atlantic City, New Jersey; where, he recalled, the Army kept him “really busy” with training and drills. Following his stint in Atlantic City, Anderson was sent to Denver, Colorado for Armaments School. He spent a few months in Colorado learning the skills of aerial gunnery and aircraft armaments. The most significant thing Anderson recalled from his training was meeting and associating with people from all over the country; which, he stated was a “key part of being young.” While in Colorado, Anderson was assigned to a B-26 Marauder bomber crew as a tail gunner. After completing training, the crew was assigned to the 559th Bomb Squadron in the 387th Bomb Group of the 9th Air Force. Anderson was soon on his way overseas.
After arriving in England, Anderson and his crew flew to Northern Ireland. He said that his favorite experience during the war was living in Ireland and meeting Irish families. A Catholic himself, Anderson attended Mass with locals and grew close to them, even to the point of spending nights with some families. He believed that “building relationships,” as he called it, became a crucial part of who he was; and, his time in Ireland was a “beautiful experience with plenty of good memories.” After the war, Anderson “corresponded for years” with some of those Irish families. He would meet and become close with other people during his time in the Army Air Force, but the Irish families made the greatest impact on his life.
In 1943, the 559th Bombardment Squadron moved from Northern Ireland to England, and it began flying combat missions out of a Royal Air Force (RAF) base at Chipping Ongar. In the early summer of 1944, the unit was reassigned to the RAF base at Stoney Cross. Anderson flew a total of sixty-three combat missions, including sorties on D-Day. In addition to his tail gunner duties, he was also assigned the task of in-flight prepping and arming bombs. Anderson’s time was not entirely spent in combat; however, and he traveled on leave to London, a city still devastated by the Blitz. He found the Londoners in good spirits, very generous and “happy to get the Germans off their backs.”
Anderson recalled that he was fairly comfortable during his time in England, especially on base, where he and his fellow aircrew men were well-fed and housed in tents with cots. He reached the rank of staff sergeant, which afforded him certain privileges “over PFCs.” Anderson also attended USO shows on the airbases. The shows included dances, where he met both British women and US Army WAACs, which added to his wartime social experience.
In September of 1944, the 559th Bomb Squadron crossed the English Channel and was assigned to bases in both France and the Netherlands, for more forward operations near the frontlines. Some of the missions flown from those bases included support for Operation Market Garden, which was the failed liberation of Holland, and the crossing of the Rhine into Germany in March, 1945. The 559th spent the remainder of the war conducting bombing missions into Germany. During their total of sixty-three combat missions, Anderson and his fellow crewmen survived remarkably unscathed. On one mission, their aircraft’s landing gear was disabled by enemy fire, resulting in a wheels-up landing in England; but, Anderson received only minor cuts, bruises, and burns in the incident. Aside from that rocky landing, his plane only received minor bullet holes, with no major damage or injuries to any of the crew.
Anderson was discharged in 1945, and he recalled that he did not really have to readjust to the civilian world, as he was “ready to get on with life.” He used his GI Bill benefits to attend Fordham University, originally intending to study law, but switching to a more generalized education following extenuating family circumstances. Anderson met his future wife while studying at Fordham, subsequently started a family and joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was very proud of his service, the “opportunity to do away with the enemy,” as well as “the great camaraderie” he had with his fellow GIs. Excluding this interview, however, Anderson noted that he did not speak often of his time in the service, including to his own family, yet he often had thoughts about his wartime experiences.
Charles Anderson was living in Sea Girt, New Jersey, at the time of his interview in October, 2005. He passed away on March 15, 2010. Click here to read his obituary.