Born on Feb. 7, 1913, Departed on Sep. 6, 2009
Virginia Beach - Norman J. Anderson, 96, a retired Major General in the United States Marine Corps, who served for 37 years, and then ran the MacArthur Memorial Foundation after his retirement, died on September 6, 2009 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Although he had a distinguished career, and was a pioneer in close air support in three wars, his military career was nearly aborted before it began - shorter than the minimum required height, he was initially rejected by the recruiters, and was only accepted after a friend whacked him on the head with a flat piece of wood hard enough to bump him up to the required height!
General Anderson, the son of an engineer and a piano teacher, was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on February 7, 1913. He was raised in Wisconsin and Florida, and graduated from high school in Glendale California. He then attended the University of California at Los Angeles where he was a member of the ROTC unit, and graduated in 1934 with a B.A. degree in History. He also completed one term of postgraduate study in East Asian Affairs at Stanford University.
One of the original pilots of American Airlines, he was an aviation pioneer for nearly 40 years, focusing an innovative mindset on developing (and defending) Marine Air's team approach to the support of ground troops. On Guadalcanal he led the famous SCAT effort to resupply Marines on the ground at a time when Japan controlled the sea around the island. As memorialized in a 1992 article in the Marine Corps Gazette, "When this, the first of the SCAT aircraft, rolled to a stop..., the U.S. Marines had inaugurated a totally unique combat air service." SCAT also set a world record for the longest mass flight of twin engine aircraft in history. Later, he flew over 100 bombing missions as Commanding Officer, Marine Bombing Squadron 423, in the Bismarck Archipelago, and Philippine campaigns. For heroism and distinguished service during this period, he was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven Air Medals. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel at the age of 31, in March 1944.
In Korea, he led air cover during General MacArthur's famous Inchon landing -- executing the close air support tactics, based on decentralized decision-making, that characterized Marine Air's approach to war. As a pilot flying with VMF-323 based aboard the Badoeng Strait (affectionately known as the BingDing), he was famous for endurance, often landing only to refuel and take off again. He earned the Silver Star Medal, his 4th DFC, and his 8th through 10th Air Medals. His approach was the Marine approach, making sure that troops on the ground were safe, well-supplied and successful. In 1956 he was appointed to the Hogaboom Board, overseeing a re-design of the Marine force structure, particularly including the optimal role of helicopters in supporting ground troops. In the early 1960's he was named Director of Marine Corps Aviation, and stationed at Headquarters Marine Corps.
General Anderson was also active in Vietnam, arriving in June 1967, he assumed duty as Deputy Commander for Air, Ill MAF and CG, 1st MAW, and earned the Distinguished Service Medal and his 11th Air Medal. He was instrumental in the Marines successful defense of Khe Sanh during the 1968 Tet offensive, brainstorming with close friends from World War II and Korea the razzle-dazzle Super Gaggle concept which saved countless lives, and brought helicopter capacity safely into the contested battlefield in a new way. The idea of the Super Gaggle "was to establish a small task force consisting of 8 to 16 resupply CH-46 helicopters, about a dozen A-4 Skyhawks and four Huey gunships to fly cover, a Marine KC-130 to refuel the aircraft, and a TA-4F with a TAC (A) in the backseat to orchestrate the entire affair." Once again, as with SCAT at Guadalcanal 24 years earlier, he brought mission critical benefits of air power to Marines on the ground. "If it weren't for the Gaggle most of us probably wouldn't be here today," according to Bill Dabney, probably the most shot at Marine at Khe Sanh.
General Anderson had a strong moralistic streak throughout his life. He famously fought William Westmoreland in defense of the Marine's approach to close air support, with the backing of his superiors winning the day for Marine Air's decentralized, team, approach to the battlefield. Westmoreland note that this was the one point in the war when he seriously thought of resigning, and later recalled that General Anderson became 'very emotional' in pressing his argument.
And in mid-1941 he lent the famous ace and close friend Greg "Pappy" Boyington $1000 so that he could go to China and fight with the Flying Tigers, money that, he proudly recalled, 'was paid back in full and on time.'
After retiring from the Marine Corps in August 1972 he authored a series of articles on close air support with soaring titles like "Marine Aviation Ready for any Emergency: Air-Ground Team Concept Value is Hailed," and "Laurels at Low Tide," describing the Inchon landings." After retirement he was involved with the MacArthur Memorial Foundation in Norfolk, Virginia, for 28 years - for the first 10 years as Executive Director, and then as a member of the board, helping to turn what had been a forgotten museum into a civic center for the re-birth of a dilapidated downtown area, as well as a world-class memorial for one of America's greatest warriors. He remained a Director Emeritus until his death.
Major General Anderson's medals and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal with gold star; the Silver Star; the Distinguished Flying Cross with three gold stars in lieu of subsequent awards; the Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze stars in lieu of second and third awards; and 22 additional awards.
He was predeceased by his brother, Dr. Thomas F. Anderson, a pioneer in the use of electron microscopy, and is survived by his sister Amy Duling, and his wife of 55 years, Irene Fernandez Anderson, a former professor of Romance Languages at Middlebury College and Syracuse University, and later an employee of the CIA. Survivors also include two sons, Norman F. Anderson, of Fairfax, VA, and Dr. Kirk C. Anderson, of Flagstaff, AZ; and four grandchildren.
A Memorial Mass will be conducted at 10:00 AM, Wednesday at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. Burial with full military honors will be at Arlington National Cemetery.