In the history of aviation and facial hair, few mustaches have been as rebellious, yet glorious as the one sported by Big. Gen. Robin Olds. And every year US Airmen pay homage to Olds, a triple-ace, and his iconic mustache by growing their own during Mustache March: the Air Force’s version of Movember.
Olds is considered to be one of the greatest fighter pilots of all time. According to the Air Force, during operation Bolo in Vietnam, Olds splashed four Russian MiGs in one dogfight. By the end of Olds’ career he had shot down 17 enemy aircraft.
The secret to his success, some say, was his “bullet proof mustache.” With a mustache of such high caliber, surely it would make any pilot invincible. Yet during the sixties, Air Force regulations did not recognize the power of the mustache and forbade facial hair. But Olds, a maverick, grew his out anyway and encouraged others at his base to do the same:
I was far away from home. It was a gesture of defiance. The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache.
In keeping with his rebellious spirit, Olds flew over 150 missions despite the 100-mission limit dictated from his higher-ups.
But times have changed, and these days Air Force regulation allows for a “conservative” mustache that must follow detailed guidelines.
Mustache March has been honored by the Air Force’s top brass. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh participated last year, although the Air Force Times says he is not growing it out this March.
Some airbases have organized official Mustache March competitions to boost morale. But some Airmen have pointed out that an organized event is not true to the rebellious spirt embodied by Olds’ mustache.
Olds passed in 2007 at the age of 84 as a highly decorated Airman. The Air Force says his accomplishments include, “the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with 39 oak leaf clusters, British Distinguished Flying Cross, French Croix de Guerre, Vietnam Air Force Distinguished Service Order, Vietnam Air Gallantry Medal with gold wings, and Vietnam Air Service Medal.”
Capt. Zach Anderson of the 931st Air Refueling Group encourages those with the ability to grow a mustache to do so and pay homage to this accomplished airman:
For those of you who can pull off the mustache, I salute you and give my full support to your brave, month-long endeavor. May your whiskers sprout thick and true and may no inadvertent slip of a razor blemish their growth.