On November 7th, 1996, a quiet 74-year-old man named Beauford Theodore “Andy” Anderson passed away near Salinas, California. Only few knew that he was a World War II veteran, let alone that he was a recipient of America’s highest award for valor in combat--the Medal of Honor. That was how Anderson wanted it. It was only after his passing that many, including some who had known him for decades, learned that the unassuming Anderson had once been the closest thing to a real-life action hero.
A Hero’s Route to a Date With Destiny
On July 6th, 1922, Anderson was born in the small town of Eagle in Richland County, Wisconsin. He led an uneventful life growing up there and in nearby Soldiers Grove, where he moved. When America entered WWII, Anderson owned a small business that operated a fleet of three trucks, hauling farm equipment and dairy products on dirt roads and through the depths of Wisconsin winters. He gave that up to enlist in the US Army on October 8th, 1942, at age 20. Looking back, he remarked: “Nobody likes being shot at … but I didn’t even know what a day off was before I went into the Army.”
Indeed, as he later claimed, even Army basic training’s 16-to-18-hours-per-day training schedule was not as difficult as his civilian life and the long days of backbreaking work hauling stuff around rural Wisconsin had been. He was assigned to the newly-activated 96th Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Deadeyes,” which had been first mobilized for World War I. It was deactivated in 1919 and relegated to the Army Reserve in the interwar years, then reactivated on August 15th, 1942, eight months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and two months before Anderson’s enlistment.
During the months of training that followed as the 96th was brought up to speed, Anderson proved to be an exemplary soldier. The kind who was not only good but who also improved those around him. Looking out for his buddies was instinctual to Anderson. A fellow soldier who knew him well during that period stated, “He was always teaching us something–teaching us to survive and teaching us to be better soldiers.” He looked out for his comrades not only in training but when the moment of truth came with everything on the line, in the hell of combat as well.
Once its preparations were completed, the 96th was sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations in July 1944. It practiced amphibious landings in Hawaii for a few months before it was sent to do the real thing with an assault landing on Leyte Gulf in the Philippines on October 20th. In the brutal fighting to liberate Leyte as a first step towards freeing the Philippines, the 96th accomplished every mission assigned to it, killing about 7700 Japanese while doing so. That came at the cost of 1800 battle casualties and another 2300 casualties from illness or accidental and non combat causes.
During the fighting in Leyte, Anderson performed his first conspicuous feat of heroism under fire – an early inkling of greater things to come a few months later. It was there that the diminutive 5’ 7”, 130-pound Anderson, by then a sergeant, earned a Bronze Star for rescuing two wounded GIs. The citation reads in relevant part: “Anderson crossed fifty yards of terrain under enemy observation and intense fire and rescued two wounded men from the scene of action, removing them to an area of comparative safety where he administered first aid until litter bearers arrived.”
The fierce resistance on Leyte ended by Christmas Day, 1944, and the 96th spent the next three months on mopping operations, security, and training for the upcoming invasion of Okinawa. On March 27th, 1945, the division loaded up and left the Philippines for Okinawa, where it conducted an amphibious assault on April 1st. Fortunately, the landing was unopposed, and the 96th swiftly established a beachhead before moving inland. The low-pressure situation ended a few days later, when the 96th approached Kakazu Ridge and was met with fierce Japanese resistance. In the bloody fighting that ensued, Anderson, by then promoted to staff sergeant, performed feats of extraordinary valor that earned him the country’s highest award for heroism under fire.
To save his comrades, Staff Sergeant Beauford T. Anderson went into action-hero mode and took on dozens of enemy soldiers on his own.
By the time he arrived in Okinawa, Staff Sergeant Anderson was a combat-tested mortarman in the veteran 1st Battalion of the 381st Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division. The landing on Okinawa’s western beaches had been easy since it was virtually unopposed. There were no flanking routes for the 96th to take as it advanced into the island, however, and it soon became clear that it would have to attack head-on into prepared Japanese defenses. What lay in store for Anderson and his comrades was some of the toughest fighting of WWII in the Pacific Theater.
It began when the 96th neared the Kakazu Ridge, a roughly 1000-yard-long ridgeline that the Japanese had incorporated into the outer defenses of their Machinato Line. It did not seem particularly daunting at first, but the Japanese had dug in deeply and were determined not to budge and to sell their lives dearly as the Americans tried to root them out. When the 96th attacked at 5 AM on April 9th, 1945, the entire ridgeline erupted in unexpectedly heavy fire. Before long, the advancing GIs found themselves caught up in desperate close quarters and hand-to-hand combat.
In the following days, the 96th made repeated assaults to try and take Kakazu Ridge. On the 12th, Anderson’s battalion launched three separate failed attacks into the teeth of heavy mortar, machinegun, rifle fire, and a shower of enemy grenades and satchel charges. That night, the Japanese subjected the 96th to a heavy artillery and mortar barrage, followed by a determined counterattack. In the darkness, elements of a Japanese battalion stealthily moved down a saddle between the ridgelines of Kakazu and nearby Kakazu West. Their aim: to break through the American lines through a weakly held sector. All that stood in their way was a 60mm mortar squad of Company A, 1st Battalion, 381st Infantry Regiment, commanded by Anderson.
At 3 AM, about 75 Japanese hit Anderson’s squad. Amidst a storm of enemy knee mortar rounds, grenades, and satchel charges, all the GIs were injured. Anderson kept his cool, however, and guided his wounded men to shelter in a nearby Okinawan tomb. Then he turned around and headed back into the night to take on the Japanese on his own. Armed only with an M1 carbine and some grenades, Anderson engaged the Japanese at point-blank range. He beat back ferocious assaults, until he ran out of grenades. In his desperation, as another attack closed in, Anderson grabbed a dud Japanese mortar round and threw it at the enemy. It exploded, killing several enemy soldiers.
That gave Anderson an idea. He scrambled around in the dark until he found his squad’s ammunition, and opened a box of 60mm mortar rounds. He pulled the safety pin from one, banged its base on a rock to arm it, then threw it at the Japanese like a football. It worked, and Anderson’s effort was rewarded with the screams of injured and dying enemy soldiers. He then took up an alternating pattern of throwing a mortar round and firing a few rounds from his carbine. After tossing 14 mortar rounds at them, the Japanese finally gave up and withdrew.
In the light of dawn, it was revealed that Anderson had killed around 25 enemy soldiers. By then, he was bleeding badly from several shrapnel wounds all over his body, but he refused his men’s entreaties to head back to the rear in order to receive medical treatment. Instead, he took off on his own to find his unit commander to report the Japanese withdrawal, and most importantly, the enemy soldiers’ route of retreat. Armed with that information, American artillery opened up and wiped out the surviving Japanese attackers.
An Unassuming Hero
On Memorial Day, 1946, the heroic deeds of the intrepid 96th Infantry Division’s mortarman were acknowledged with the country’s highest award for valor in combat. That day, former US Army Technical Sergeant Beauford T. Anderson, by then a civilian, was a guest of honor at an award ceremony on White House grounds. There, he was one of five WWII heroes who received a Medal of Honor from the hands of President Harry S. Truman. The citation accompanying the medal described Anderson’s conduct on April 13th, 1945, thus:
“He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. When a powerfully conducted predawn Japanese counterattack struck his unit's flank, he ordered his men to take cover in an old tomb, and then, armed only with a carbine, faced the onslaught alone. After emptying 1 magazine at point blank range into the screaming attackers, he seized an enemy mortar dud and threw it back among the charging enemy Japanese soldiers, killing several as it burst. Securing a box of mortar shells, he extracted the safety pins, banged the bases upon a rock to arm them and proceeded alternately to hurl shells and fire his piece among the fanatical foe, finally forcing them to withdraw. Despite the protests of his comrades, and bleeding profusely from a severe shrapnel wound, he made his way to his company commander to report the action. T/Sgt. Anderson's intrepid conduct in the face of overwhelming odds accounted for 25 enemy killed and several machine guns and knee mortars destroyed, thus single-handedly removing a serious threat to the company's flank.”
For the rest of his life, Anderson downplayed – or even hid – his heroism. Medal of Honor notwithstanding, he did not see himself as a hero. As he told his son James when he was ten years old: “The real heroes never came back.” That was the only time that James heard his dad talk about his wartime experiences. He had to pursue outside sources for more information on the man who fathered him, raised him, and had been a pillar in his life. As James recounted to reporters after his father’s death: “What I did know, I read in a book, ‘The Medal of Honor of the US Army’ … Sometimes my dad would talk about the war, but only with a few buddies, and they’d go into the den.”
Anderson returned to Wisconsin, launched a floor sanding business in Beloit, got married, and started a family. A few years later, he reenlisted in the Army and became a recruiter in Beloit until he was reassigned to Fort Ord, California. He eventually gained a commission as a second lieutenant before leaving the military for good on September 30th, 1952, after ten years of service. After his second discharge, he started another floor sanding business, this time in Seaside, California, where he became a pillar of the community. He was elected as a Seaside City Councilman, then the Mayor, and eventually, the Supervisor of Monterrey County. He passed away on November 7th, 1996, and his wife of 50 years, Phyllis, followed him a month later. The two are buried together in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sources and Further Reading
Californian, The, February 15th, 2012 – Remembering a Hero: Medal of Honor Winner Was a Humble Man
National WWII Museum, New Orleans – Beauford T. Anderson, US Army
Soldiers Grove – Beauford T. Anderson: The Making of an American Soldier
Wisconsin State Journal, June 16th, 1992 – “Soldiers Grove Never Forgot WWII Hero”
Wikipedia – Beauford T. Anderson
Wisconsin Magazine of History, Volume 36, Number 2, Winter 1952 -1953 – “Wisconsin and the Medal of Honor”
Wisconsin Veterans Museum – Beauford T. Anderson