In Memoriam: #ShavedButNotForgotten
How many of you, dear readers, have heard of Moustache March? If you’re like me, this is a somewhat new phrase for you. (If you’re in the Air Force, and have participated with Moustache March, you’ll simply have to bear with me.) Moustaches have been on my mind since my An Homage to the Moustache back in February. Imagine my surprise when I learned that March was dedicated to that humble little crumb catcher.
In this annual event, members of the United States Air Force grow their moustaches to honor the aviation legend Robin Olds. After reading up on this Air Force icon, I have to admit that Robin Olds is the embodiment of EVERYTHING a flying ace should be. In fact, I imagine him as the most elite of Top Gun. And, just like Tom Cruise in that movie, Robin Olds was indeed a maverick.
From the age of eight, he knew he wanted to fly. Actually, it might have been even earlier than that. To hear him recount it, his love of flying exploded on the scene when he father- Major General Robert Olds, a WWI combat pilot- put him in the backseat of a bi-plane and took him up. It was all history after that. By his 12th year, he confidently declared he would attend West Point, play football there, and train to become a military aviator. Of course, as he predicted, Robin Olds did precisely that. (Not only did he play football for West Point, his stint as tackle for both offense and defense was so stellar that he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.)
He began his aviation career during WW2 in European theater where he quickly became a triple ace; while five kills are necessary to qualify for the moniker, Olds was responsible for twelve victories in the air and eleven aircrafts destroyed on the ground. During this time, he took command of a fighter squadron. That’s something in and of itself, but the fact that he was only twenty-two- an unheard of occurrence today- only adds fuel to his illustrious flame.
However, while his leadership skills shown brightly during WW2, it was not until Vietnam that he achieved the status of legend in the eyes of the Air Force. In 1966, he took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. Under his leadership, the 8th Tactical Wing became the top MiG killing unit. (MiG is an acronym for the aircrafts produced by the Russian company Mikoyan-i-Gurevich.) Under Olds’ leadership, Operation Bolo was orchestrated. This ingenious plan to trap the enemy, disguised F-4s (highly maneuverable and lightning fast aircrafts) as F-105s (slower aircrafts). The hope was that the enemy MiGs would think the F-105s were on a bombing mission and attack, the enemy’s assumption being that their MiGs could outfly F-105s. The enemy did engage in just the manner Olds anticipated and the F-4s shot down seven MiGs. (That’s the highly condescends version, as there were obviously a lot of moving parts to this maneuver, but as Olds said himself, “To make a wonderfully long short story, they lost.”) This operation has been so lauded and revered that the History Channel even generated a computer animation of the aerial battle and had Olds narrate it.
College Football Hall of Famer, renowned military tactician, Air Force Cross recipient, the list of titles, accolades, medals, and awards goes on and on. Yet, I think the inception of Moustache March as an unofficial movement in the Air Force would tickle Robin Olds the most.
You see, Robin Olds was big on individuality. As I said before, he was a maverick, in every sense of the word. In fact, if we were to ask his superiors, I’m sure they’d say he was a maverick to the point of defiant. (A thing which cost him combat assignment during the Korean War.) And one of the greatest emblems of that defiance was his enormous handlebar moustache- a clear breach of Air Force regulation.
It was also in Vietnam that Olds became known for his ‘stache. In fact, during that war, his moustache had a name and a following. What started out as a lighthearted act of rebelliousness to solidify his individuality quickly grew into a galvanizing and inspirational badge of honor. Known as the bulletproof moustache (as Olds flew mission after mission through perilous skies and returned unscathed), Robin Olds’ handlebars augmented the superstition that only real men would come back home alive, and because Olds was the epitome of manliness in every way from his leadership to his lip rug, this belief evolved into all the men growing moustaches because real men wore moustaches.
Olds wore his whiskers of defiance proudly and did not shave them off until he went to Washington in the late 1960s and was personally ordered by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P. McConnell, to, “Take it off.” The order didn’t upset Olds too greatly.
While Robin Olds moustache lives on in infamy, I think it only right to mention a few more of his achievements. He was commandant of cadets at the Air Force Academy where he would routinely put himself as a rookie pilot on the flight schedule beneath junior officers. During his career, he flew over 65 different aircraft. He was instrumental in putting into place the training ideals, theories, and practices that have formed the foundation for modern day air-to-air combat. In fact, he accomplished nearly as much grounded as he did up in the air. (And, though not a military achievement, Olds was married to a pin-up girl, which some would consider quite the achievement, indeed.)
Dedicating the month of March to the memory of Robin Olds- and his enormous moustache- is a fitting tribute to one of the feistiest fighter pilots of all time.
And speaking of fitting tributes, have you seen Mr. Cavill’s? While I must confess to being a little sorry to see the Kingstache go, given the tumult surrounding this tickler, I think Mr. Cavill’s rousing in memoriam is bang on.
As the saying goes, With great moustache comes great responsibility. Who said that? Spiderman? Tony Stark? Pre-CGIed Superman? Regardless of who said it, Robin Olds lived it.
Now, dear readers, has there been any notables that you can name who have donned the moustache, but who you prefer clean shaven?