Mustache March

Every November for the past few years, more and more American men are adopting the custom of growing out their mustaches to raise awareness about men’s health issues. “Movember,” as it’s come to be called, raises awareness on such topics as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide. 


“Mustache March” is a Military Tradition to Honor Robin Olds

The men of the United States Air Force adopted a similar custom, except theirs comes in March and for a very different reason. “Mustache March” is a military tradition to honor one man: fighter pilot, World War II triple-ace, and Vietnam War legend Robin Olds

Robin Olds was, without a doubt, one of America’s greatest fighter pilots. He was the son of an Army Air Corps captain who hung out with a virtual who’s who of Air Force legends: Billy Mitchell, Hap Arnold, Carl Spaatz, and Eddie Rickenbacker, just to name a few. 

When Olds came of age, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (where he played football) and graduated just in time to enter World War II behind the stick of his P-38J Lightning. He was Maj. Robin Olds with 13 kills and a squadron commander before age 23. 

By the time the war in Vietnam rolled around, Olds was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, having made the jump when the Air Force became a separate branch in 1947. He deployed to Southeast Asia as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, nicknamed “the Wolfpack,” at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base.

Why Mustache March Matters To Airmen

Olds was rubbed the wrong way by what he saw as an Air Force dominated by World War II bomber pilots who neglected fighters at their own peril. He was hamstrung by restrictions on tactics, was constantly asking for training and better fighters, and was put off by the public relations aspect of the war. 

In 1965, Olds began growing out what he dubbed his “bulletproof” mustache. According to his biography, it was a figurative middle finger to the news media and his uncaring superiors that he wore unapologetically in Southeast Asia

“Generals visiting Vietnam would kind of laugh at the mustache,” Olds once said. “I was far away from home. It was a gesture of defiance. The kids on base loved it. Most everybody grew a mustache.”


It was one legend that lived up to the mythos. Olds was restricted to flying 100 missions over Vietnam but certainly flew more. He also only claimed four air-to-air kills against the North Vietnamese Air Force but purposely stopped short of being an ace – the Air Force would take away his command for fear of losing him in combat.

To be clear, he definitely shot down more than four enemy fighters in Vietnam but only claimed four. 

Olds Proved the Superiority of American Air Power

His biggest coup came in 1967 when he devised a way to fool communist fighters into believing they would be intercepting a group of slower, less maneuverable F-105 Thunderchief bombers. Using a massive fleet of F-4 Phantoms, Operation Bolo used electronic warfare pods to fool enemy ground radar into seeing what they believed were F-105s

When North Vietnamese MiGs scrambled to intercept them, all they found were Olds and his Wolfpack flying F-4 Phantoms. Olds and his squadrons downed seven enemy aircraft that day, proving the superiority of American air power.  

When Olds was promoted and reassigned to the Air Force Academy in 1968, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John McConnell stuck his finger on the ‘stache and ordered Olds to “take it off.” It was the end of Olds’ mustache, but inspired airmen have been growing their own “bulletproof” facial hair in his honor ever since.

Read About Other Military Myths and Legends

If you enjoyed learning about Mustache March, we invite you to read about other military myths and legends on our blog. You will also find military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the blog.  If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on today.


Tags: 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Air Force Academy, Billy Mitchell, Carl Spaa, Eddie Rickenbacker, F-105 Thunderchief, F-105s, F-4 Phantoms, Gen. John McConnell, Hap Arnold, in Vietnam, Movember, Operation Bolo, P-38J Lightning, Robin Olds, Southeast Asia, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, United States Air Force, Vietnam War, World War II


  1. James Bell

    i WAS there and this patch is right on He was the young troops hero, and he did not come on as a tough guy but like a guy that would give you the time of day and never heard of him ripping anyone out just the type of guy that you would dream of working for and that worked for him that whole group would do whatever was it took to be #1. The plane is on display at Wright Patterson AFB Dayton Ohio along with Him and the Vietnam war Display and just for my part in this I worked on that plane in 1967 and 68 and met that a few times. Thank you, Gen. Olds, for all of my memories.

  2. Richard B. (Bruce) Leiby

    While I was stationed at Naval Air Station Midway Islands between July 5th, 1967 and May 18th, 1968 my act of defiance was growing a mustache in order to look older and the Navy had a policy that IF your picture on your military I.D. showed you had a mustache, NO ONE could “order you” to shave it off!! I was 20 years old when I reported there and 20 years old when they took my photo for a new I.D. because I made E-5 later on in 1967. When I reported aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) my new IM-2 Jet Shop Division Officer ordered me to shave the mustache off and I “quoted ” the Navy regulation that now allowed me to keep it!! He was “pis-sed” off, threatened to send me to Captain’s Mast and actually “wrote me up” for it!! Two months later I asked him when I was going to Captain’s Mast and he said that he had checked out the Navy Regulation and found that I was right about it, BUT said that IF I shaved it off, “All bets were off”!!!!! Kudos to Colonel Robin Olds for ALL his accomplishments!!!!!


    This moustache harassment was typical of our, “Leaders,” who didn’t want to win the Viet Nam war.Twenty years and 50,000 lives later, they were rich beyond their wildest dreams.


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