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William Anderson, 83; WWII Pilot, Author of 'Bat*21'

May 29, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

William Charles Anderson, a decorated command pilot who used his 23-year Air Force career in writing some 20 books, including the bestselling "Bat*21," has died. He was 83.

Anderson died May 16 in Fairfield, Calif., of a heart ailment.

The highly decorated lieutenant colonel began his writing career after his military retirement in 1964. His experience, from World War II into the Vietnam era, provided ready material for a variety of books in which he strove to "spin a good story, hopefully laced with a ribbon of humor."

Best known of his books, and probably the least humorous, was "Bat*21" in 1980, the true-life story of 53-year-old Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, who was shot down virtually into an active battlefield in the Vietnam War.

It was made into a 1988 movie starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover. Hambleton, portrayed by Hackman, used his survival radio to direct air strikes against troops nearby, and although injured, followed instructions to crawl to freedom by night.

Anderson co-wrote the screenplay for the movie, which Leonard Maltin in his Movie and Video Guide describes as a "taut, compelling film ... with fine acting all around."

Another of Anderson's books, "Hurricane Hunters" in 1972, was made into a 1974 television movie called "Hurricane" starring Larry Hagman and Martin Milner.

Anderson's other books included true-crime tales such as the 1994 novel "Lady Bluebeard" based on the story of a Twin Falls, Idaho, housewife who was considered one of the first female serial killers.

But he also did whimsical tomes, some based on his life as father of three children from his two marriages. Among them were his 1969 "The Two-Ton Albatross: Across a Trans-continental Highway in a Travel Trailer with Two Kids, Two Guppies, a Miniature Orange Tree, a Lobster Named Hud, a Saint Bernard Dog, and a Claustrophobic Wife" and the 1970 "Roll Up the Wallpaper, We're Moving" about relocating to Lake Arrowhead.

Anderson even wrote such goofball novels as the 1966 "Pandemonium On the Potomac," about a man from Venus trying to persuade Pentagon officials to halt underground nuclear testing because it causes the Earth to wobble on its axis, endangering the galaxy.

Born in La Junta, Colo., and reared in Boise, Idaho, Anderson was educated at Boise Junior College, Fort Hays State College in Kansas and the University of Maryland.

Information about survivors was unavailable.

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