Arthur F. Anders, 96, Hero Aboard U.S.Gunboat in 1937


By Eric Page, , August 31, 2000


Arthur F. Anders, an officer of the U.S. Navy gunboat Panay who took command despite serious wounds after Japanese warplanes attacked it on the Yangtze River in China in 1937, died on Sunday at his home in Rancho Bernardo, Calif. He was 96.

Anders, nicknamed Tex, was a lieutenant and the Panay's executive officer when the attack, which became known as the Panay incident, came on a clear Sunday, Dec. 12, 1937. It was an ominous event in the turbulent years preceding World War II. Japan had invaded China in July of that year, and its troops had seized Nanjing, on the Yangtze in east central China, in November.

Anders, whose deeds that day won him the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart, recalled in a 1989 interview that at first, "the Japanese government said bad visibility was the cause" of the attack on the Panay, but that the assault "was deliberate and planned."

Japan later apologized for the attack and offered reparations.

The Panay, clearly marked as a U.S. vessel, was 27 miles above Nanjing when the incident began. In his 1989 interview, Anders recalled: "That Sunday on the Panay we had just had our chicken dinner. We heard Japanese heavy bombers coming. It wasn't a new sound. They were hitting the Chinese ashore," but "the Japanese hadn't struck us. America was neutral."

Nevertheless, "this time the heavy bombers didn't wing past us and hit the Chinese onshore," Anders, who had retired from the Navy, added. "The three heavies came at us. And they were followed by six dive bombers."

The Japanese warplanes bombed and strafed the Panay, seriously wounding its captain, Lt. Cmdr. James J. Hughes.

Taking to the bridge, Anders, whose hands were wounded, gave an order for the Panay's machine guns to open fire on the planes. He then suffered a shrapnel wound to the throat, which forced him to give orders in writing -- including one, with the gunboat gravely damaged, to abandon ship.

Accounts of the casualties in the Panay incident differ. Anders' son, William, a retired major general of the Air Force, said on Tuesday that the only people killed on the Panay that day were a crew member and an Italian journalist.

Writing of the incident in 1963, a University of California historian, Alexander De Conde, said: "The American people, after a brief burst of warlike anger, took the matter relatively calmly. The crisis passed within a few weeks. Nonetheless, it showed how precarious peace was, even for the United States."

Tex Anders was born in Weimar, Texas, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1927 and served on naval vessels in Central American and Asian waters before the Panay incident.

His wife, Muriel Adams Anders, died in 1990.

He is survived by his son, William Anders, of Deer Harbor, Wash., who was an astronaut in Apollo 8 when it circled the moon in 1968; a brother, Edgar Anders of La Grange, Tex.; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and his companion, Marian Hamburg of Rancho Bernardo.

Go to: Vietnam Medal of Honor Citations

Go to: Obituaries

© 2000 by Neil Mishalov