AIR FORCE HISTORY: Mustache March from days of Olds

Commander Robin Olds, a United States Air Force wing commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in the Vietnam War. (Air Force photo)

Commander Robin Olds, a United States Air Force wing commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in the Vietnam War. (Air Force photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

The United States Air Force, despite being the youngest American military service, has a few outstanding traditions. Civilians vaguely know the tradition of Mustache March as an occasion used by some to raise money for charity. Many in our own military ranks only know Mustache March as “some damn pilot thing.” Well, it is indeed that, and it comes from one of our greatest Airmen, the first Wolf of the Wolf Pack, Robin Olds.

Born on Bastille Day, 1942, Olds was a life-long maverick in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II, and a United States Air Force wing commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing in the Vietnam War. Many pilots fighting in the Vietnam War superstitiously had a “bulletproof mustache,” but Olds used his as a “gesture of defiance.” The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache.

He became the first Wolf when the 8th TFW became known as the Wolf Pack after their victorious air battle over the enemy known as Operation BOLO on Jan. 2, 1967. Readers might remember this battle being mentioned in the first Tinker Take Off issue of the year when the F-4 Phantom was lauded.

As a result of this battle, both Olds and the Wolf Pack became famous. His famous and expansive mustache, quite out of regulation, came home with its owner after Olds’ service in Vietnam was over. When he reported to Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. McConnell, the general walked up to him, stuck a finger under his nose and said, “take it off.”

Olds complied, of course, privately saying, “To tell the truth, I wasn’t all that fond of the damned thing by then, but it had become a symbol for the men of the 8th TFW. I knew McConnell understood. During his visits to Ubon over the past year, he had never referred to my breach of military standards, just seemed rather amused at the variety of ‘staches sported by many of the troops. (It) was the most direct order I had received in 24 years of service.”

Upon hearing the news, many of his fellow air warriors were stunned, but they kept a stiff upper lip – and put a rug on it. It was a touching display of masculine solidarity with aircrews worldwide growing mustaches, perhaps hoping to restore balance to a universe obviously going to hell in a handcart.

This incident with the world’s most famous manstache is given credit as the impetus for the Air Force tradition, “Mustache March,” in which aircrews, aircraft maintainers, and other Airmen worldwide show solidarity by a symbolic, albeit good-natured “protest” for one month against Air Force facial hair regulations.