Cold War Era

USAF Academy unveils Air Warrior Combat Memorial honoring ace pilot Robin Olds and air power

Robin Olds was a “triple ace” with 17 victories in World War II and the Vietnam War and commandant of cadets from 1967-1970. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 30 years of military service.

A $1.4 million memorial celebrating the first 100 years of aerial combat was unveiled at the US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Oct. 1, 2021.

As explained by Ray Bowden, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs, in the article Academy honors air power, ace pilot Robin Olds with memorial, the Air Warrior Combat Memorial near North Gate and Stadium boulevards features a bronze statue of former commandant of cadets and pilot Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, a F-4 Phantom aircraft model, and displays highlighting the advances of air power since World War I.

In all, 368 donors paid for the memorial in its entirety, with the class of ’71 donating 90% of the cost, according to Greg Knedler, vice president of class and constituent development for the school’s fundraising arm, the Academy Foundation.

Above: The $1.4 million Air Warrior Combat Memorial was unveiled with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Oct. 1, 2021. The memorial, near North Gate and Stadium boulevards at the base, features a statue of former commandant of cadets and ace pilot, Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, a F4 Phanton aircraft model and displays highlighting the advances of air power since World War I. Top image: United States Air Force Academy graduates, family members and staff tour the just-unveiled Air Warrior Combat memorial at the Academy, Oct. 1, 2021. The $1.4 million memorial features a model of the F4 Phantom aircraft and a statue of ace pilot and former Academy commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.

Retired Col. Frank Morgan, a 1971 Academy graduate and project chair, said the memorial is the end-result of an 11-year fundraising and design effort organized by the Class of ’71.

After the class’s 40th reunion in 2011, “We were eating pizza and having a beer,” he said. “That’s how this started. We all knew we needed to do something.”

Raising funds was a team effort, Morgan said, that included graduates from the Academy’s classes of ’63, ’69 and private donors.

Brigadier Gen. Paul Moga, the Academy’s commandant of cadets and a fighter pilot, is a 1995 graduate of the Academy. Olds, he said, is the archetype of air power. Photos of every Academy commandant hang near his office but the photo the commandant pays the most attention to is of Olds.

The new $1.4 million Air Warrior Combat Memorial at the U.S. Air Force Academy features displays highlighting the advent of air power since World War I. The memorial opened Oct. 1, 2021 and is the result of an 11-year fundraising and design effort by the school’s Class of 1971. Other donors included the classes of ’63, ’69 and many private donors.

“I feel his eyes tracking me,” he said with a laugh.

Moga said Olds’ “deep commitment to the Air Force, air power and Airmen” is an example for every Airman and cadet. The memorial, he said, is an example of the “grit, discipline, innovation and courage” cadets need to be successful war fighters.

Olds was a “triple ace” with 17 victories in World War II and the Vietnam War and commandant of cadets from 1967-1970. He retired from the Air Force in 1973 after 30 years of military service.

Robin Olds grew up amongst military aviators and aircraft – his father was a World War I pursuit pilot, an aide to Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, and commander of the first B-17 squadron. Robin Olds attended West Point, where his characteristic boldness allowed him to excel on the football field – in 1942, he was selected as an All-American tackle. After Olds graduated in 1943, he attended flight training and went to Europe as a P-38 pilot.

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Olds stood out as a daring pilot and a natural leader. Within a few months, he shot down five enemy fighters to become the 479th Fighter Group’s first ace. At the very young age of 22, he was promoted to major and given command of the 434th Fighter Squadron. Olds continued his success after the unit converted to P-51s, and he ended the war with 12 victories.

In the fall of 1966, Olds took command of the 8th TFW at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. Olds’ charisma and courage endeared him to his people, and under his leadership, the “Wolfpack” became the USAF’s top MiG-killing wing in Southeast Asia. Olds also played a key role in the creation of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, which improved coordination between USAF wings in Southeast Asia and became a lasting fraternal organization.

Col. Robin Olds painting a victory star on the F-4 he was flying on May 4, 1967, when he shot down a MiG-21.

Olds led from the front – he shared the same risks as his aircrews by flying on the most dangerous missions. He was the first USAF pilot to score four combat victories with F-4s in Southeast Asia. He received many decorations for his audacity in combat, including the Air Force Cross for a mission in August 1967, when he led a strike force against the heavily defended Paul Doumer Bridge in North Vietnam.

The crowning achievement for Olds was planning and leading Operation Bolo, when North Vietnamese MiG-21 pilots were tricked into an air battle at a disadvantage.

The Air Warrior Combat Memorial is open to the public during base visiting hours.

Photo credit: Trevor Cokley / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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