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Airmen’s mustaches honor legendary fighter pilot Robin Olds

Legendary ace pilot Colonel Robin Olds inspired Mustache March with his trademark handlebar. (U.S. Air Force)

Some airmen in South Korea are celebrating a legendary former 8th Fighter Wing commander the way they do every March — by growing Robin Olds mustaches.

“It just grows on you,” 8th Mission Support Squadron deputy commander Lt. Col. John Roberts said before posing for a photo with his mustache Tuesday. He was standing in the Robin Olds room inside a bar just off Olds Avenue.

“I feel that I could probably take on the whole North Korean army myself right now,” said the 43-year-old from Los Angeles. “You are bulletproof once you grow a mustache — that’s straight from Robin Olds.”

A triple fighter ace, Olds scored his first dozen kills in the skies over Europe flying the P-38 Lighting and the P-51 Mustang during World War II. He was stateside during the Korean War but took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1967, when its jets were being hammered by enemy MiG-21s during the Vietnam War.

Olds’ solution was Operation Bolo, where he disguised his F-4 Phantoms as bombers and lured the Vietnamese fighters into a trap. Bolo netted the wing seven kills and initiative in skies.

By the end of his tour, Olds had shot down four enemy jets and grown his distinctive handlebar mustache as an act of rebellion against the Air Force brass.

“It became the middle finger I couldn’t raise in the [public relations] photographs,” Olds once said. “The mustache became my silent last word in the verbal battles … with higher headquarters on rules, targets and fighting the war.”

Olds’ “cockiness” and “we’re the best” attitude lingers over the 8th Fighter Wing, which came to Kunsan in 1974. Wolfpack airmen’s love of mustaches and pushing the envelope aren’t acts of defiance but rather a swagger, kicking up the base’s metaphorical guitar amp from 10 to 11.

“Nobody drills, nobody trains like Kunsan.” Roberts said. “Our main point here is to be ready to take the fight north to good ol’ Kim Jong Un.”

Kunsan is a time capsule of what the service used to be. People get to know each other here playing sports or mingling in packed squadron bars after work.

“This is how the Air Force was, I think, 20 to 30 years ago,” Roberts said. “It hasn’t changed here, that culture.”

It’s the sort of place where Olds would be at home, he said.

“If he was here, [he would probably be] out on the flight line hanging out with the enlisted crew,” Roberts said. “He’d be everywhere and anywhere but the Olds room until it was Friday night to throw back some beers.”

The first rule to growing out that signature Robin Olds “bulletproof” mustache?

“No. 1, don’t ever, ever trim it,” Roberts said.


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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