The act of growing a mustache as a gesture of defiance against dogmatic leadership is attributed to USAF “triple ace” Robin Olds
Throughout history, mustaches have been worn by military men. Generally, young men and lower ranks displayed smaller, less elaborate mustaches. As a man advanced in rank, his mustache would become thicker and bushier, until he was permitted to wear a full beard. General Lew Wallace wore a full mustache and long goatee; this was the style during the American Civil War.
Mustache March is an annual event occurring in the month of March, where men in the United States Air Force (USAF) grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend Robin Olds. The idea stems from an early Air Force tradition in which members of the service would grow mustaches in good-natured protest against facial hair regulations during the month of March.
The act of growing a mustache as a gesture of defiance against dogmatic leadership is attributed to USAF “triple ace” Robin Olds.
As explained in AFROTC Detachment 755 Cadet Document The History of Mustache March, Robin Olds was a “triple ace” spawned from an Army Air Corps father and West Point with a combined total of 16 victories in WWII and Vietnam.
Col Olds was known for his extravagantly waxed handlebar style mustache he sported in Vietnam. It was known back then as a “bulletproof mustache” and many Airmen sported it because of a superstition that only “real men” would make it back home alive and “real men” wore mustaches. But back in the 1960’s mustaches were against military regulation so many were forced to shave it off. Col Olds, being far from his home base (in the fall of 1966, Olds took command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base), thought the mustache defined his individuality so he kept it.
The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache. Olds started the mustache in the wake of the success of Operation Bolo and let it grow beyond regulation length because as Olds himself explained “It became the middle finger I couldn’t raise in the PR photographs. The mustache became my silent last word in the verbal battles…with higher headquarters on rules, targets, and fighting the war.”
Returning home, however, marked the end of this flamboyance.
Olds reported to his first interview with then Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P. McConnell who was not a big fan of Col Olds’ mustache. Gen McConnel walked up to him, stuck a finger under his nose and ordered, “Take it off.” To which Col Olds replied, “Yes, sir.”
Col Olds was not upset with the order. He said, “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 Wing. 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 twenty-four years of service.”
The incident with the mustache is given credit as the impetus for a new Air Force tradition, “Mustache March”, in which aircrew, aircraft maintainers, space operators, cyber operators and other Airmen worldwide show solidarity by a symbolic, albeit good-natured “protest” for one month against Air Force facial hair regulations.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com