Valor Friday

| November 4, 2022

Robin Olds

After the war, Olds remained in the service. He initially was posted at West Point as assistant football coach. In February 1946 though he was sent to March Field to join a P-80 Shooting Star fighter jet squadron. While there, he teamed with Lieutenant Colonel “Pappy” Herbst (a WWII ace of the China-India-Burma Theater) to create the first American jet aerobatic team.

Also in 1946, Olds met the gorgeous Hollywood starlet and pin-up girl Ella Raines. Raines had just recently divorced her first husband. The two married the following year. They would be married for 29 years.

Olds and Raines had three children (two girls and a stillborn boy). Their marriage was always strained. Raines refused to live in government housing, and Olds was frequently away from home due to military duties.

With Colonel Herbst, the two aces would perform two-plane aerobatic routines as they completed a nine-stop flight across the US. This wowed the crowds, who marveled at the state of the art jet fighters. From March Field, Olds would be part of some of the major post-war jet age feats. He was one of four pilots to complete the first single-day dawn to dusk flight across the Continental US, from March to Washington, D.C. In July 1946 the aerobatic flying would come to an end tragically when Herbst crashed his plane, killing him instantly.

Herbst and Olds were flying an encore of their finale. The finale would see two Shooting Stars fly in a loop while outfitted to land. Herbst’s plane stalled, leading to his crash, with Olds narrowly escaping the same fate.

In 1947 the Air Force became its own military branch, with Olds now wearing the blue uniform of that service. In 1948 he was seconded to the Royal Air Force in Britain. He was officer commanding No. 1 Squadron RAF for almost a year, flying Gloster Meteor jet fighters. He was the first foreign officer to command an RAF squadron in peacetime.

In late 1949 Olds was placed in command of the 71st Fighter Squadron, part of the Air Defense Command and stationed at Pittsburgh Airport. In 1950, when the Korean War started, Olds repeatedly requested a combat assignment, but was denied.

Despite promotions to lieutenant colonel in 1951 and colonel in 1953, Olds was only 31 and at odds with the Air Force. He clashed with superiors that he felt were more interested in advancing their careers than they were in cultivating their wartime skills. Olds was going to retire from the service, but was talked out of that decision by Major General Frederic Smith.

For the next couple of years, Olds, as most field grade officers have to do at some point, served in staff officer positions. For a hard charging warrior like Olds, this was interminable. In 1955 he returned to flying, with a position on the command staff of the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Wing in Germany. Soon he was given command of that wing’s 86th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. The squadron flew F-86 Sabres.

From 1956 to 1958 he was posted in Libya, which had a large US Air Force presence at the time. Olds headed the US Air Force Europe (USAFE) Weapons Proficiency Center. There he commanded the unit that conducted all of the fighter weapons training for USAFE.

From 1958 to 1962, Olds served in a variety of staff assignments again, this time at the Pentagon. While there he penned many papers, some of which were downright prophetic. In one, he identified a shortfall in the production of upgraded conventional explosive ordnance (proven true with the “bomb shortage” experienced just a few years later in Vietnam). In another, Olds noted the lack of tactical air training for conventional warfare. The Cold War focus was on nuclear bombardment.

The late-50s was an unusual time for the nominally peacetime US military. The Navy and Air Force were still competing over Defense Department budgets to maintain their relevance, both in the air and as part of the nuclear deterrence. In the latter role, the Navy had started to field nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines while the Air Force held the other two legs of the “nuclear triad” with their nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

At the same time, advances in air-to-air missile technology led to a belief that the aerial dog fights of the two World Wars and Korea were history. It was thought that future air warfare would be conducted entirely at range with missiles. In fact, the F-4 Phantom fighter that became a mainstay of the American fixed-wing air forces during Vietnam was designed without a gun at all. It wouldn’t be needed, they thought. The F-8 Crusader flown by the Navy was said to be “The Last Gunfighter” as it was the last American fighter jet designed to fight with a gun. This would become a major issue for our pilots flying over Vietnam in the coming years.

In this era, war plans were for a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. This led to an emphasis on nuclear delivery training and long-range missile engagements over the dogfighting and conventional bombing techniques Olds thought his airmen would need in the next war.

After his staff assignments, Olds was given command of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) in England. The wing flew F-101 Voodoo fighters. The Voodoo was a nuclear-capable fighter bomber deployed all over the world in the air defense and low-level penetration bombing role. The reconnaissance variant was the only one to see service in Vietnam however.

Olds brought in as his second in command Daniel “Chappy” James Jr. James, then a lieutenant colonel, was an accomplished aviator. He started his career as one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and saw combat action during the Korean War. Olds and James would work together again in Vietnam where the team earned the nickname “Blackman and Robin.” James would go on to become the first black Air Force four-star general and commanded NORAD.

Robin Olds (seated, center) and Chappy James (standing)

The 81st TFW had both a nuclear strike and conventional bombing mission in defense of NATO. To bolster his men’s tactical air-to-air proficiency, Olds created a completely unauthorized and totally against regulation aerial acrobatic act towards the end of his tour in 1965.

Olds, who had now served for more than 20 years and had a proven record as both a combat and peacetime commander, was on the short list for a general’s star. As an end of tour award, he was set to receive the Legion of Merit. Olds, after receiving a promotion to brigadier general, would surely never get to command a combat unit in the Vietnam War. At this time, the US participation in the war was dramatically ramping up.

Olds knew that his future was behind a desk, unless he did something so brash that the powers that be would be forced to retain him in his rank of colonel. Which is the opportunity his new little aerobatic team would afford.

The Voodoo flight demonstration was flown by Olds’ pilots at an Air Force open house at RAF Bentwaters in England. Furious, Olds’ commander at the Third Air Force is said to have attempted to have him court martialed before the USAFE commanding general interceded. Instead, Olds’ name was taken off the promotion list, his recommendation for the Legion of Merit was rescinded, and he was removed from his position as wing commander.

The tactic worked though, because the newly fired Olds was sent to Headquarters Ninth Air Force at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. By the end of 1966 he had secured the command of an F-4 Phantom wing deployed in Southeast Asia. As he traveled across the country, he arranged for his old friend Chappy James, now at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, to get him checked out on the new, high performance fighter. Olds completed the 14-step syllabus in just five days.

In September 1966, in Thailand, Olds took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. His vice commander was Colonel Vermont Garrison. Garrison had, like Olds, become an ace in the skies over Europe during the Second World War. He shot down seven enemy planes before he was shot down by antiaircraft fire and spent two years as a prisoner of the Germans.

During the Korean War, Garrison earned the Distinguished Service Cross on 5 June 1953 for leading a flight of four F-86 Sabres into an attack against 10 enemy MiGs. Shooting two of them down himself, his wingmen killed another three enemy fighters. The enemy lost half their aircraft within two minutes of the engagement starting and fled from the superior skills of the American airmen. During Korea, Garrison shot down nine enemy aircraft in total, becoming one of only a handful of aces from World War II to become jet aces in the Korean War. “The Gray Eagle” as he was fondly known to his men would fly 97 combat missions in Vietnam.

In December, Olds secured his comrade Colonel James as their deputy commander of operations. This command element became one of the best and most experienced of any wing in the war.

Olds would lead his new command from the front, flying many combat missions. His predecessor had, in comparison, flown only sparingly. Olds was not the type of man to ask more of his men than he was willing to do himself. He really was a true leader in the best sense of the word.

As wing commander, Olds took to calling his men the “Wolf Pack” for the manner in which they would work together to take down their prey. As you can imagine, the name stuck and is still used by the 8th Fighter Wing.

The air war over Vietnam in 1966 had not been going well. The F-4 Phantom was the latest fighter in the American arsenal. Designed originally for the Navy as a fleet defense interceptor, it would go on to great success as both a fighter and strike fighter during the rest of the Vietnam War. It was not without its teething problems though.

As mentioned earlier, the Phantom was not built with a gun for dogfighting. The AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles it was fitted with for air-to-air combat were found to be less effective than planned. Many fuses failed, and the success rate with them was abysmal. At the same time, the North Vietnamese were being outfitted with the Soviet’s latest fighter, the MiG-21.

Holloman AFB F-4 Phantom II

The Phantom is an excellent aircraft. It’s a Mach 2+ fighter capable of carrying as much bomb weight as the legendary B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber of World War II. It’s fast and has an unparalleled climb rate. The F-4’s two-seat configuration meant the pilot (or weapons system officer) in the back seat could focus on working the radar and weapons systems. All that power and capacity means it is a large, heavy fighter.

Meanwhile, the Soviets had designed a small, fast, agile interceptor fighter in the MiG-21. They first deployed to Vietnam about the same time Olds arrived in Thailand. The MiG-21 is about half the size physically of a Phantom. In fact, the gross weight of a MiG-21 is about the same as the maximum bomb load a Phantom can carry.

With American missiles not being as effective as predicted, air-to-air fights became close quarters dogfights. The flagship American fighters, without any guns, were easily outmatched by the small, light MiG-21 in close quarters engagements. The older American F-105 Thunderchief had been absolutely chewed up by the MiGs. The F-4 was aiming to change the dynamics of the conflict.

F-105s had also suffered heavy losses to surface to air missiles (SAM). Equipped with jamming pods, the SAMs were no longer a threat, but MiG-21 interceptions against heavily bomb-laden Thuderchiefs rose dramatically.

There were not enough jammer pods to outfit both the F-105 and the F-4. Olds came up with a plan, known as Operation Bolo. What they’d do is outfit F-4’s with the jamming pods. They would fly the same route that the F-105s did, and they would use Thunderchief radio call signs. The idea was that the MiGs would come up to intercept the inferior F-105s, believing they were equipped for a bombing mission. Instead, they would be confronted by F-4s, decked out for air-to-air combat.

By the first day of January, they were ready to put Bolo into action. The North Vietnamese only had 16 MiG-21s. Despite heavy cloud cover, the Phantom crews got the MiGs to fly up to meet them. In hectic dogfighting, the Wolf Pack shot down seven in total, with Olds claiming one himself. Additional missions in the next several days would down two more MiGs. MiG-21 operations ceased for 10 weeks in response, making Bolo a rousing success. No American aircraft was lost in the operation.

Olds and his wingmen all received Silver Stars for their performance in Operation Bolo. On 4 May 1967 Olds shot down another of the MiG-21s in North Vietnamese service. Bringing his total kills to 15. He was now a triple ace, spread across two wars and three decades. He earned another Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for that action.

Just weeks later, on 20 May, Olds would score two more kills. This time against the older MiG-17 fighters. The MiGs had shot down Olds’ wingman. In an incredible act of vengeance, he chased them both down and dispatched the two enemy fighters. He’d shot down a total of 17 aircraft. He nearly became an ace in Vietnam.

On 30 May, Olds earned another Silver Star. He led an extremely low-level bombing mission against a major steel mill in enemy territory. Despite bad weather and “the heaviest defenses ever encountered by United States Air Forces in Southeast Asia”, Olds completed his mission. His aircraft, “Scat XXVII” and another in the flight sustained heavy damage, but all returned to base.

Olds earned another Distinguished Flying Cross on 4 June when he led a flight of Phantoms against a superior number of enemy MiG-17s. The Americans fought until they’d exhausted all of their ordnance. He got his sixth (and final) DFC for leading a success bombing mission on 21 August against a heavily defended railway target.

Olds would receive the country’s second-highest award for combat bravery, the Air Force Cross, for a mission on 11 August 1967. On that day, Olds led a flight of eight F-4s against a railway and highway bridge in North Vietnam. Once again, the weather was poor, but they pressed on. Taking anti-aircraft fire from the ground, repeated SAM attacks, and harassment from enemy MiGs, they succeeded in destroying the target. This appreciably reduced the enemy transportation of war materiel.

Olds flew his final combat mission, his 152nd of the Vietnam War and 259th of his career, on 23 September 1967. His men carried him triumphantly on their shoulders after he climbed out of the cockpit. Olds’ F-4 “Scat XXVII” was retired from service. It’s on display (complete with its four North Vietnamese red star kill marks) at the National Museum of the Air Force.

Olds later said about Air Force fighter doctrine at the time;

“We weren’t allowed to dogfight. Very little attention was paid to strafing, dive-bombing, rocketry, stuff like that. It was thought to be unnecessary. Yet every confrontation America faced in the Cold War years was a ‘bombs and bullets’ situation, raging under an uneasy nuclear standoff.” The Vietnam War “proved the need to teach tactical warfare and have fighter pilots. It caught us unprepared because we weren’t allowed to learn it or practice it in training.”

While Olds lamented the lack of a gun on his F-4C (later models would be fitted with one) in Vietnam, he didn’t fly with (or allow his pilots to fly with) the gun pod option. First, the pilots weren’t trained with it. Second, he felt it would throw off the aerodynamic balance of the airframe. Lastly, he didn’t want to take up one of the external bomb racks to put it on, since bombing was the wing’s primary mission.

Olds posing next to one of the kill marks on his fighter

While in Asia, Olds had taken to the tradition of growing a “bulletproof mustache.” The facial hair was common for the deployed troops, but Olds took his to new levels. Extending well past the edges of his mouth, he waxed a magnificently non-regulation handlebar ‘stache. Did it piss off his superiors? Yes. Did his men love it? Yes. With those two answers, you don’t need anything else to understand why Olds grew it. It became his trademark.

Olds’ mustache would become a part of Air Force history. He was featured prominently in public relations photos after his many successes. The mustache was a middle finger he could point publicly at the brass. He fought with them over tactics, targets, and rules of engagement. His regulation-flouting mustache was his retribution.

Olds would leave Vietnam as the Americans’ highest scoring fighter pilot to date. He held that record until he was surpassed by five American aviators (three USAF and two USN) who became the only aces of the war, all in 1972.

After Vietnam, Olds reported to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. When he showed up for his first interview, the general held a finger under Olds’ nose and said, “Take it off.” Olds replied, “Yes, sir.” By then Olds wasn’t fond of the mustache anyway. He’d only retained it as a symbol to the men of the 8th Wing. Olds said that the order to remove it was, “The most direct order I had received in 24 years of service.”

Post-war, Olds’ first assignment was as commandant of cadets at the US Air Force Academy. Here he stressed that the honor code was to be used to uphold the integrity of the service, and not to enforce minor policy violations (such as his drinking on leave). In 1968 he was promoted to brigadier general and served at the USAFA until 1971.

After his Academy tour, he served in a staff assignment before being tapped by the Air Force Inspector General to go to SE Asia again and report on the combat readiness of American pilots. In the process, Olds flew a handful of highly unauthorized combat missions.

On this tour, Olds was not impressed with the preparedness for combat, saying that they “couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.” A systemic lack of preparation for air-to-air combat would lead to fighter losses if the air war intensified again.

In May 1972, just months after Olds’ damning reports, Operation Linebacker returned American fighters to the offensive after nearly a four year hiatus. Air Force pilots struggled, just as Olds had predicted, suffering nearly a 1:1 kill to loss ratio. Meanwhile, the Navy and Marine Corps aviators, who had started to focus on dissimilar air combat at the famed TOPGUN program, were succeeding. They were pulling down 12 enemies for every friendly lost.

Olds volunteered to take a reduction in rank to colonel to once again lead men in combat and rectify the disparity. His boss, the lieutenant general serving as the USAF IG declined and instead offered Olds another tour as an IG. He was too much a man who liked to be in the action, in the fight, and saving his men’s lives by teaching them how to fight. He took retirement instead in 1973.

In retirement, Olds and his wife, Ella Raines, separated in 1975 and divorced the following year. In 1978 he married again, holding that one together for 15 years. Olds’ penchant for alcohol was well-known, and it’s been said that it probably hurt his post-Vietnam career. In 2001, he was arrested for DWI.

Olds did receive accolades for his career. He is enshrined in both the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, the only man so honored.

Olds died in 2007 at the age of 84 from prostate cancer. His ashes are held at the Air Force Academy. Olds was survived by two daughters and several grandchildren. Robin had one full and two half brothers. His brother Stevan, who was at West Point at the same time as Robin, graduated from the academy in 1945. He passed away in 1988. One of his half-brothers, Sterling Meigs “Dusty” Olds (b.1935) would be an aviator in the US Navy Reserve. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, junior grade. He would die in 1995.

Among Olds’ other awards and decorations, other than those already mentioned above, was two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, the Legion of Merit, 40 Air Medals, five Presidential Unit Citations, the United Kingdom’s Distinguished Flying Cross, a French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star (indicating a citation at the divisional level), and from South Vietnam the Air Force Distinguished Service Order (considered equivalent to an American Legion of Merit) and the Air Gallantry Cross with gold wings (the highest level of that award).

Robin Olds was the man every man wants to be (war hero, ace fighter pilot, adored by his men, and married to a hollywood starlet) and that every woman wants to be with. It will not surprise then, that Olds’ most memorable personal trait, his mustache, has become its own tradition. Every March, US Airmen all over the world partake of a relatively new tradition of “Mustache March” and grow out their own epic ‘stache.

Category: Air Force, Air Force Cross, Historical, Valor, We Remember

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President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

A “man’s man” indeed!
LOVE the ‘stache!

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

He didn’t get divorced while active duty, as his wife never knew where to find him to serve him papers.
And he only got divorced AFTER he retired because his wife got tired of him being constantly underfoot.

(I’ve heard more than one story about wives being sick of their retired hubbys being constantly underfoot, and telling them, “get out of the house! get a job! get a mistress!”)


Excellent read. Thanks Mason.

Chris Melvin

I was lucky enough to meet Gen. Olds once. He joked with me that the Marine Corps would disown me for thinking an Air Force officer was such a bad ass. I told him that I had seen warriors in all branches of the service & you didn’t need to be a Marine to be a bad ass warrior. He pulled me in as he shook my hand, winked at me and said ” That’s no shit, son”.


I met Olds at a March AFB airshow in ’69 or ’70. Dude just radiated coolness that even a 7 year old kid could recognize. I had no clue who he was at the time or his history. Just some guy hanging out with my dad’s flight crew before the show. Wasn’t until years later that I saw a picture and asked dad about him.


‘Staches. A friend back in Texas was an enlisted scout in Vietnam, 4th ID, 1965, later went to infantry OCS and then got qualified in armor after deciding his chances as an infantry 2LT in Vietnam. Once commissioned, Chuck grew and maintained a handlebar mustache. He commanded a tank company in Korea. His company was the only tank company with long-term 100% Up on vehicles, which led to an inspection by a BG. The general looked around, talked with Chuck’s battalion commander, got in his helicopter and flew away. Chuck’s battalion commander in debrief said, “The general says get rid of the mustache.” With Vietnam done, Chuck was riffed for lack of adequate civilian education. If there’s a way, they will get you.


….According to legend, his wife Ella went behind his back to contacts in Washington to make sure he didn’t go to Korea.

Prior Service

I just finished “Fighter Pilot” yesterday for the third time. A great book. Thanks for the executive summary!


Thank You, Mason, for sharing another wonderful story of Valor.

This one along with his Dad’s was so interesting!

Rest In Peace To Both Gentlemen.



We could use Blackman and Robin today. A Salute to those Warriors.

Thanks, Mason.


I love these stories Mason. We need Blackman and Robin in the Senate. Maybe together they could shoot down some of the stupid shit that flys out of there.

Anna Puma

“Our ruse was simple. Our F-4s would mount a typical large strike using the F-105 call signs, routes, and timings, the routine stuff that the North Vietnamese were used to seeing in the predictable bombing raids by the Thuds, but we would be armed for air-to-air combat …, the MiGs would come up after us and get a deadly reception. Flights of Phantoms would come in from different directions and orbit the VPAF airfields, preventing any MiGs from landing, and we hoped, running the bastards out of fuel. Finally if they chose to escape to Nanning in China, there would be other flights of F-4s airborne waiting to block their escape and counter any possible support from Nanning into the battle area.”

pg 272. Fighter Pilot:The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds.