For outsiders, the Airpower Community is a very much closed ‘Brotherhood’. A rare breed of warriors. A community like that can have some weird traditions such as burning pianos etcetera. One Airpower tradition in this category is ‘Mustache March’. And, as with every tradition, it has a story. For this one, we have to go back at least half a century.
In the mid-1960s there was a war going on in Southeast Asia. And, both on the ground and in the air, it wasn’t going too well for the Americans. The ‘all-knowing’ politicians had too much influence on the campaigns and the Pentagon, full of ‘let’s nuke ‘em’ Bomber Generals, carried them out, pushing through with one flawed campaign after another in Vietnam.
Focusing on the air war, the kill ratio between the USAF/USN/USMC Airmen in their multi-million, missile toting sophisticated fighters and those North-Vietnamese in their cheap, austere ‘Flying Ladas’ was poor. A mere 1:2. Under ‘Bomber General’ influence, the Americans had unlearned old trades, such as close-in dogfighting with a killer instinct.
So, the Pentagon reluctantly looked around in its dungeons, found an old World War Two Fighter Ace, dusted him off and gave him a mission. They’d rather not use him but the end justified the means. This man was a real old school hands-on fighter jock and leader. A maverick who wasn’t afraid to defy his superiors, but got the job done: Robin Olds.
He already had earned his merits and had made Ace against the Third Reich, flying P-38s and P-51s in Europe. And now, after a crash course on the F-4 Phantom, Robin was sent to Ubon RTAB in Thailand and, as a Colonel, took over the USAF’s 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the famous ‘Wolfpack’. What he discovered was deplorable. In effectiveness and in morale.
He teamed up with their African-American Ops Officer Colonel Chappie James and went to work. They became famous as ‘Blackman And Robin’ and started producing results. Due to mainly Robin’s no-bullshit binding leadership, the ‘Wolfpack’ became a well-oiled, highly motivated and very effective fighting machine. And Olds always flew up front, leading.
The Vietnam war was widely covered by the mass media. It was the first ‘television war’. Since Robin was already an All-American Hero, he attracted a lot of media attention. Olds started to grow a very handsome waxed bar handle mustache that was prominently seen on every TV coverage. It was his silent protest, his middle finger against his country’s leaders.
You see, within the USAF there were regulations about growing facial hair. Mustaches were forbidden. So Robin, who had to reign in his outspoken nature on camera, used his mustache. And this very protest has become a two-fold tradition since. It honors Robin as a legendary fighter pilot and leader, and it’s a sign of defiance against flawed leadership.
It's called 'Mustache March'.
Robin went permanently ‘upstairs’ back in 2007. His endeavors in World War Two in the 1940s, Vietnam in the 1960s, his strategic and tactical skills, his leadership as well as his entire life are well documented. In a book full of his memoirs, produced by his daughter Christina Olds and his flying buddy, the Late Ed Rasimus. A ‘bible’ for any fighter jock.
The title is ‘Fighter Pilot. The Memoirs Of Legendary Ace Robin Olds’.