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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedOlds school: Robin Olds was passionate patriot
By Frederick A. Johnsen
 

Air Force Col. Robin Olds, in Southeast Asia 1967, commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, preflights his F-4C Phantom. Col. Olds has shot down four enemy MiG aircraft in aerial combat over North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Patriot with a passion; respectfully rebellious.

Definitions that might begin to frame Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, but would still fall short of the man.

Robin Olds’ daughter Christina shared vignettes of her famous fighter-pilot father in a Forum session at AirVenture 2010 on Monday.

Following Gen. Olds’ death in the summer of 2007 at age 84, daughter Christina lovingly took on the daunting task of turning the many notes for his unfinished autobiography into a book, Fighter Pilot.

Fighter Pilot tells a sweeping story that embraces a flying family—his father was Maj. Gen. Robert Olds, entrusted with the use of early prewar B-17 Flying Fortresses to cement the role of strategic bombardment as an Air Corps tool.

Robin Olds flew P-38s and P-51s in World War II and earned triple ace status with a total of 16 aerial victories—four of them Soviet-designed MiGs when he returned to combat over Southeast Asia in the 1960s.

Christina told her appreciative audience, “I adored my father.” She was a teenager when he went to Vietnam.

Christina was confronted by reporters the day after her father accomplished an unorthodox but effective ruse that drew North Vietnamese jet fighters into combat.

Her recollection of one reporter’s question is: “How do you feel about your father being a murderer?”

In those years, Christina repeatedly heard criticisms of men and women in service, and she never forgot. “It has become my mission to help people understand that these wonderful people (in the military) are just doing their job.”

Christina read passages her father wrote, describing in detail the spectacle of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, which he witnessed from overhead flying a P-51.

Ordered to fly cover in the event of Luftwaffe interception—that never materialized—the Mustang pilots were specifically ordered not to drop down and strafe enemy positions.

This inability to affect the outcome was agonizing for Olds as he described blood on the water and eruptions of enemy fire killing Americans.

Normandy framed an ongoing struggle for Olds; his devotion to duty came up against his native decisiveness and penchant for action.

After her forum presentation, Christina said one of the reasons her father became a tireless public speaker late in life was his desire to infuse young people with the drive to balance ever-creeping bureaucracy against the need to act.

Christina infused her forum presentation, as well as the book about her father, with family anecdotes to make it more than the story of a fighter pilot.

She spoke of her mother, actress Ella Raines, who she said had a difficult time being an Air Force wife.

She characterized her famous father as a man of action who shunned personal ambition.

After being awarded general officer status, Olds offered to take a demotion so he could be sent back to Southeast Asia to help his beloved fighter pilots. And during his earlier tour there, he occasionally doctored the mission board to avoid reaching 100 missions and the mandatory rotation home that came with it, Christina said.

She characterized her father as a leader. “I think that is Robin Olds’ greatest legacy.”

She was proud to tell her audience that her father, “that renegade of a guy,” was picked as the exemplar for the U.S. Air Force Academy class of 2011, his name emblazoned on their cadet uniforms.

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