Christina Olds, daughter of retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, holds a photograph presented to her by the 560th Flying Training Squadron at the Auger Inn on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, March 30, 2017. Olds shared stories of her father’s distinguished Air Force career as a triple ace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michelle Patten) (Photo by Senior Airman Michelle Patten)
Christina Olds, daughter of retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, examines mustaches to determine the one that best conveys her father’s legendary spirit at the Auger Inn on Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, March 30, 2017. Olds visit was part of the activities for the 44th Freedom Fighters Reunion honoring POW/MIA pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michelle Patten) (Photo by Senior Airman Michelle Patten)
JBSA-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Known as a renegade, retired Brig. Gen. Robin Olds was more than an Airman with a regulation-pushing mustache.
“He was born to fly,” said Christina Olds, remembering her late father. “He knew from the moment he was conscious that he wanted to fly, that was the whole atmosphere around him.”
Robin Olds was the son of Maj. Gen. Robert Olds, a World War I pursuit pilot who would become the first B-17 squadron commander, and he grew up surrounded by such pioneers of aviation as Billy Mitchell, Henry A. “Hap” Arnold, and Carl A. Spaatz among others. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Olds made a name for himself as an ace pilot with 12 victories during World War II. He also commanded the 434th Fighter Squadron as a major at the age of 22.
“He was a brilliant fighter pilot and tactical thinker within that aircraft, but he’s even more known for his leadership style which was very hands-on,” Olds said. “He never asked someone to do something he wouldn’t do himself first.”
Despite a rising career Robin was not content with a desk job in the Pentagon. Instead he sought to get back to flying and leading Airmen. He soon got his chance when he took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in the fall of 1966.
Under his charismatic leadership he transformed the unit into the U.S. Air Force’s top MiG-killing wing in Southeast Asia, though he didn’t always follow orders in getting results.
“He stood by his principles,” said Olds. “He sometimes didn’t obey orders when something was wrong and he trusted his instincts. Some people still have the WWROD- ‘What would Robin Olds do?’ stenciled on their aircraft.”
It was while serving as the commander of the 8th TFW that Olds donned his trademark mustache that inspires today’s Airmen to celebrate Mustache March. While Olds already had a reputation for pushing the limit, he kept his mustache as a sign of defiance against military leadership who he felt were out of touch with the daily realities of combat in the Vietnam War.
“[The mustache] became sort of a rallying cry,” Olds explained. “Airmen would say, ‘Hey the old man is bucking the system for our benefit. He’s changing the tactics to make the mission more successful, and telling Washington you’re crazy for having us bomb day after day at the same time, at the same level, at the same targets.’”
While in Thailand, Olds held a tactics conference to get aircrews flying combat missions over Vietnam on the same page. This event laid the foundation for the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association which supports prisoner-of-war families.
After Olds retired from active-duty he continued to tour the country giving talks about the Air Force and pushing for support of the POW/MIAs of the Vietnam War.
“His deepest mission was to bring everybody home safely,” Olds said. “He wanted more than anything to let them know that they weren’t forgotten. They were going to come in and get them out. America wasn’t going to abandon them in any way shape or form. It became almost a mission within the war to get the POWs out.”
This mission makes it fitting that Olds’ daughter, Christina, attended the 44th annual Freedom Flyer Reunion at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph to share her father’s stories. While some of the Freedom Flyers may have personally known Robin Olds,
Christina’s memories of her father gave a younger generation of pilots insight into the deep brotherhood they have joined.
“Robin Olds was one of my heroes,” said 2nd Lt. Sebastian Meintel, 558th Flying Training Squadron remotely piloted aircraft pilot. “He has been a big inspiration in me joining the Air Force. I really enjoyed getting to hear the history from someone who actually got to live it.”
The reunion provided an opportunity for repatriated Vietnam War POW pilots to celebrate their homecoming. The annual event also offers a "freedom flight" for those who never received the opportunity to take their final flight.
“He would say welcome home,” Olds said reflecting on what her father would tell the Freedom Flyers. “You made it back and I’m so proud of you.”