Maj. Rudolf Anderson Jr., a graduate of Greenville High and Clemson University, was the only U.S. casualty of the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis.
The U2 spy plane he piloted was shot down Oct. 27, 1962. He was 35.
Anderson took photos of Russian missile sites under construction in Cuba. His photos helped prove that the missiles were offensive in nature at a time when the Soviets claimed they were defensive weapons.
President John F. Kennedy used the photos in his decision to order a blockade on Russian ships headed to Cuba.
Kennedy told the nation in a televised address that a missile launched from Cuba would require "full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union."
Five days later a surface-to-air missile brought down Anderson's plane.
With news of Anderson's death, Kennedy's Joint Chiefs wanted a massive air strike against Cuba followed by an invasion.
The following day, Oct. 28, Khrushchev announced over Radio Moscow that he was removing the missiles from Cuba.
Kennedy wrote to Anderson's widow, "Your husband's mission was of the greatest importance and I know how deeply you must feel his loss."
Kennedy posthumously awarded Anderson the first Air Force Cross, a medal Congress had approved two years earlier as the parallel to the Army Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross.
An F-86 Sabrejet like the plane Anderson flew in Korea stands as a memorial to him in Greenville's Cleveland Park.
Source: KEN OSBURN/Staff