By LtCol Mike Christy
Together We Served Dispatches
Deciding on a military career at the age of 12, Olds attended Hampton High School in Hampton Virginia where he became a standout football player. Declining a series of football scholarships, he elected to take a year of study at Millard Preparatory School in 1939 prior to applying to West Point. Learning of the outbreak of World War II while at Millard, he attempted to leave school and enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
This was blocked by his father who forced him to stay at Millard. Completing the course of study, Olds was accepted to West Point in July 1940 and played for the renowned coach Red Blaik, compiling so stellar a record as a tackle on both offense and defense that in 1985 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Selecting service in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Olds completed his primary flight training in the summer of 1942 at the Spartan School of Aviation in Tulsa, Oklahoma.Returning north, he passed through advanced training at Stewart Field in New York. Receiving his wings from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, Olds graduated from West Point on June 1, 1943 after completing the academy’s accelerated wartime curriculum. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, he received an assignment to report to the West Coast for training on P-38 Lightnings. This done, Olds was posted to the 479th Fighter Group’s 434th Fighter Squadron with orders for Britain.
Arriving in Britain in May 1944, Olds’ squadron quickly entered combat as part of the Allied air offensive prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Dubbing his P-38J aircraft the “Scat II” (every fighter he flew in combat was named “Scat” and numbered sequentially), Olds worked closely with his crew chief to learn about aircraft maintenance. Promoted to Captain on July 24, on a low-level mission over Montmirail, he spotted two bogeys far in front of him, heading to his right, about 200 feet off the deck.
He pulled behind the two FW-190’s and at 400 yards behind the trailing plane, he fired a six-second burst, hitting the left wing and then pulling his gunfire onto the fuselage. Big pieces flew off, flame and smoke poured out, and the airplane rolled off to the right. Turning his attention to the second plane, he did not see the first one hit the ground. As the second plane pulled a full 360 turn, Olds stayed with him. From dead astern, he fired a five-second burst and observed many hits. The Focke Wulf zoomed up and the pilot bailed out.
On August 25, during an escort mission to Wismar, Germany, Olds shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s to become the squadron’s first ace, making him the last P-38 ace of the Eighth Air Force and the last in the European Theater of Operations. He also claimed three more unofficial kills that could not be verified by witnesses.
In mid-September, the 434th began converting to the P-51 Mustang. This required some adjustment on Olds’ part as the single-engine Mustang handled differently than the twin-engine Lightning.
After downing a Bf 109 over Berlin on Oct. 6, Olds completed his initial combat tour in November and was given two months leave in the United States. Returning to Europe in January 1945, he was promoted to Major the following month on February 9, and received his seventh aerial victory the same day, using his P-51D’s new K-14 gunsight to calculate the deflection and hit a Bf-109 at 450 yards over Magdeburg with his first burst, a result that surprised even Maj. Olds. He closed in and fired twice more, with his third burst sending the Messerschmitt down in flames. Five days later, on February 14, he claimed three more kills but only received credit for two with the other listed as a “probable.”
On March 25, less than two years out of West Point and at only 22 years of age, Maj. Olds received command of the 434th. He never forgot it. Decades later he said, “As a Major I was responsible for feeding and housing my men, training my men, and rewarding or punishing them. As a Colonel I had to check with some general for permission to visit the latrine.”
Unlike many pilots who regarded airplanes as tools, Olds could be sentimental about his machines. Near the end of the war he was one of six P-51 pilots who attacked a German airdrome and found himself the lone survivor. He nursed his crippled Mustang back to base but found that it stalled at 175 mph, rolling violently. But as he said, “Scat VI had taken me through a lot and I was damned if I was going to give up on her.”
Somehow he got the bird on the runway and kept it in one piece.
Olds was a team player as long as the team wanted to play. When the leaders were only interested in suiting up, he exercised some initiative. In other words, he went freelancing. In his first two dogfights he was alone with his wingman, having left formation to hunt on his own. As he wryly noted long afterward, “When I shot down my first two airplanes I was relieved to see that they had black crosses on their wings.”
Olds used to say that the two best things about World War II were London and Col. Zemke. When the 479th’s first commander was shot down in August 1944, Hub Zemke moved over from the fabled 56th Fighter Group and rejuvenated the Mighty Eighth’s last fighter outfit. Not that Olds needed any rejuvenating, but the group had plodded along in pedestrian fashion.
In a few weeks Zemke turned things around, and added to Robin’s already formidable determination to succeed as a shooter and a leader. The group converted to P-51s in September but on October 30, 1944, while flying in unforecasted turbulence, the wing of Zemke’s P-51 was torn off. Zemke was forced to bail out over enemy territory and was captured. He was liberated when the war with Germany ended.
Olds had made ace in both the P-38 and P-51, probably the only pilot ever to do so. Postwar after VE-Day, he returned to the States and reverted to his permanent rank: a 23-year-old Captain.
With the end of the war in Europe in May, Olds’ tally stood at 12 kills as well as 11.5 destroyed on the ground. Returning to the US, Olds was assigned to West Point to serve as an assistant football coach to Earl “Red” Blaik.
Olds’ time at West Point proved brief as many older officers resented his rapid rise in rank during the war. In February 1946, Olds obtained a transfer to the 412th Fighter Group at March Field, California, and trained on the P-80 Shooting Star. Through the remainder of the year, he flew as part of a jet demonstration team with Lt. Col. John C. “Pappy” Herbst.
In 1946, while based at March Field, Olds met Hollywood actress (and “pin-up girl”) Ella Raines on a blind date in Palm Springs. They married in Beverly Hills on February 6, 1947, and had two daughters, Christina and Susan, and a son, Robert Ernest, who was stillborn in 1958. Most of their 29-year marriage, marked by frequent extended separations and difficult homecomings, was turbulent because of a clash of lifestyles, particularly her refusal to ever live in government housing on base. Olds and Ella Raines separated in 1975 and divorced in 1976. Olds then married Abigail Morgan Sellers Barnett in January 1978, and they divorced after fifteen years of marriage.
Ella Raines died in May 30, 1988 Sherman Oaks, California from throat cancer. She was 67.
Seen as a rising star, Olds was selected for a U.S. Air Force-Royal Air Force exchange program in 1948. Traveling to Britain, he commanded No. 1 Squadron at RAF Tangmere and flew the Gloster Meteor. With the end of this assignment in late 1949, Olds became the operations officer for the F-86 Sabre-equipped 94th Fighter Squadron at March Field in California.
Olds next was given command of the Air Defense Command’s 71st Fighter Squadron based at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. He remained in this role for much of the Korean War despite repeated requests for combat duty. Increasingly unhappy with the U.S. Air Force, despite promotions to Lieutenant Colonel (1951) and Colonel (1953), he debated retiring but was talked out of it by his friend Maj. Gen. Frederic H. Smith, Jr. Shifting to Smith’s Eastern Air Defense Command, Olds languished in several staff assignments until receiving an assignment to the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany in 1955. Remaining abroad for three years, he later oversaw the Weapons Proficiency Center at Wheelus Air Base, Libya.
Made Deputy Chief, Air Defense Division at the Pentagon in 1958, Olds produced as series of prophetic papers calling for improved air-to-air combat training and the increased production of conventional munitions. After assisting in generating the funding for the classified SR-71 Blackbird program, Olds attended the National War College in 1962-1963. Following graduation, he commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters. During this time, he brought over former Tuskegee Airman Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. to Britain to serve on his staff. Olds left the 81st in 1965 after forming an aerial demonstration team without command authorization.
After brief service at Shaw AFB in South Carolina, Olds was given command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. He knew from his own sources that all was not well in the 8th TFW and resolved to see it from the perspective of the FNG (the “freaking” new guy).
He went through the normal in-processing routine like any other newbie, paid close attention and spoke little. By the time he reached the front office, he reckoned that he knew all he needed to. He began cleaning house.
First he cut loose the deadwood, the ticket punchers and careerists who had “sniveled some counters “- missions that counted toward completion of a tour when in fact they had not gone north. Then he began learning the way the Wolfpack did business so he could improve upon it. He stood before the F-4C Phantom crews and said, “I’m going to start here by flying Green Sixteen (tail-end Charlie) and you guys are going to teach me how. But teach me fast and teach me good, because I’m a quick learner.”
Sitting in the audience was Capt. Ralph Wetterhahn, a future MiG killer. Like so many other pilots and WSOs, he was energized by the new CO’s press-on attitude. Years later, Wetterhahn compared Olds’ arrival with that of Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) in Twelve Oâclock High.
The old ways were not only out, they were deceased. A new regime had arisen, and the Wolfpack began showing results. Olds ruled over a fiefdom like a feudal baron, enjoying the excitement of the hunt by day and discussing the great game with his men at arms by night.
Under Olds’ predecessor, who seldom flew combat, the 8th had eked out a meager kill-loss ratio. Like the rest of the Air Force, it had barely broken even with Hanoi’s MiGs, peaking at a 2-1 exchange rate. Under Olds, the Wolfpack shot to the top of the Southeast Asia league, bagging 18 MiGs, and when he left, the wing’s kill ratio stood at 4-1.
The free-wheeling environment at Ubon fueled morale, and the Wolfpack’s was stratospheric. Dedicated consumers of booze and red meat, they reveled in the warrior ethic. In contrast, todays sedate, sober young professionals are superbly educated, highly competent, and terrified that they might say something that somebody would find objectionable. Olds did not want to live in that world.
And he didn’t.
Increasing concerned about F-105 Thunderchief losses to North Vietnamese MiGs during bombing missions, Olds designed “Operation Bolo” in late 1966. This called for 8th TFW F-4s to mimic F-105 operations in an effort to draw enemy aircraft into combat. Implemented in January 1967, the operation saw American aircraft down seven MiG-21s, with Olds shooting down one. The MiG losses were the highest suffered in one day by the North Vietnamese during the war. A stunning success, Operation Bolo effectively eliminated the MiG threat for most of the spring of 1967. After bagging another MiG-21 on May 4, Olds shot down two MiG-17s on the 20th to raise his total to 16, including the four MiGs over Vietnam.
Over the next few months, Olds continued to personally lead his men into combat. In an effort to raise morale in the 8th TFW, he began growing a famed handlebar mustache. Copied by his men, they referred to them as “bulletproof mustaches.” During this time, he avoided shooting down a fifth MiG as he had been alerted that should he become an ace over Vietnam, he would be relieved of command and brought home to conduct publicity events for the Air Force. On August 11, Olds conducted a strike on the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi. For his performance, he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Upon return to the U.S., Olds was acclaimed as America’s top gun of the war to date, a record he retained for the next five years. But he was contemptuous of the Air Force’s attitude toward air combat, exclaiming, “The best flying job in the world is a MiG-21 pilot at Phuc Yen. Hell, if I was one of them I’d have got 50 of us!”
Despite his MiG-killing fame, he was perhaps proudest of the strike against North Vietnam’s best-defended target: Thai Nguyen steel mill. In an ultra-low-level attack, leaving rooster tails on the paddies behind them, Olds and two wingmen put their bombs on target. He considered it a dangerously wasteful effort, as the mill had been hit repeatedly, but its smoke stacks had remained standing. What he valued most was the courage and skill of his aircrews.
Leaving the 8th TFW in September 1967, Olds was made Commandant of Cadets at the US Air Force Academy. Promoted to brigadier general on June 1, 1968, he worked to restore pride in the school after a large cheating scandal had blackened its reputation. In February 1971, Olds became director of aerospace safety in the Office of the Inspector General. That fall, he was sent back to Southeast Asia to report on the combat readiness of USAF units in the region. While there, he toured bases and flew several unauthorized combat missions.
He found what he feared: most Air Force fighter crews “couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.” Commander John Nichols, a Navy MiG killer brought to Udorn, Thailand to teach dog fighting to the Air Force blue suits, saw Olds taxi his F-4 into the chocks after a practice mission. “The canopy came open, followed by General Olds’ helmet in a high, lofting arc. He was not happy.” But his report and analysis were not well received, and his recommendations were ignored.
When Operation Linebacker began in May 1972, American fighter jets returned to the offense in the skies over North Vietnam for the first time in nearly four years. Navy and Marine Corps fighters, reaping the benefits of their TOPGUN program, immediately enjoyed considerable success with a 12:1 kill-loss ratio. In contrast, by June, as Olds had predicted, the Air Force’s fighter community was struggling with a nearly 1:1 kill-loss ratio.
To the new Inspector General, Lt. Gen. Ernest C. Hardin, Jr., Olds offered to take a voluntary reduction in rank to Colonel so he could return to operational command and straighten out the situation. Olds decided to leave the Air Force when the offer was refused (he was offered another inspection tour instead) and he retired on June 1, 1973. With 17 career victories (thirteen in WW II plus four in Vietnam) when the triple ace died, he was America’s third-ranking living ace. His 259 total combat missions included 107 in World War II and 152 in Southeast Asia, 105 of those over North Vietnam. Scat XXVII (F-4C-24-MC 64-0829), the plane he flew for his four MiG kills, was retired from operational service and placed on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, with the four red MiG stars representing his four MiG kills in Vietnam painted on the splitter vane of the intake.
Retiring to Steamboat Springs, CO, he became active in public affairs. Enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001, Olds later died on June 14, 2007. His ashes were interred at the US Air Force Academy.
Far too many military personnel, policemen, and politicians mouth their oath of office as a rote exercise. Not Robin Olds. He thought about the words, absorbed, them, and passed them along. In addressing newly commissioned officers he said, “The airman swears that he will obey the orders of the officers appointed over him. Do you realize what responsibilities that puts on your shoulders? Your orders have to be legal and proper. Think about it, before you give one. But think about how to protect and defend the Constitution. Because do you know what that is? That is by, for, and of The People. It is not the President; it is not the Speaker of the House; nor the Leader of the Senate. It is the People of the United States; who, hopefully in their wisdom will guide their forces properly.”
Olds had been writing a memoir for several years prior to his death. Says F-4 pilot and novelist Mark Berent, “It was well written, as you’d expect from Robin, but it wasn’t really about him. It was more about people he knew.”
Another Air Force officer who read part of the text said that it began as an ethereal discussion with the ghost of Robin’s father. Robert Olds had asked his son the status of the U.S. Air Force and got a detailed debriefing on what’s wrong with the service. It was a long list.
When he died on June 14, not quite 85, Olds left the work incomplete. The fact that his book remains unfinished represents a major loss to aviation literature.
Gen. Robin Olds once said his magnificent mustache represented his defiance. This defiance grew into the modern-day practice called “Mustache March” in the U.S. Air Force, in which Airmen of all ranks grow their mustaches out of regulations for the entire month of March in defiance of AF hair grooming standards.
Read the service reflections of
MSgt David M Cummings
U.S. Air Force (Ret)
Shadow Box: http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/rsbv/MSgt.D.Cummings
If you served in any branch of the U.S. Military, record your own military service story you can share with your family on TogetherWeServed.com.
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?
When I was young I was making aircraft from wood I found on our farm in Vermont. As far back as I can remember I have always been interested in aircraft so it stands to reason that the Air Force would be my choice. The Navy was also a choice but I don’t swim well. So the Air Force won out.
My Dad was the reason that I decided to make the Air Force a career choice. The year was about 1964 and I was very interested in my Dad’s occupation with J&L located in Springfield VT. He showed me his pay stub and I was amazed as to the monthly dollar amount. He followed up by saying that he had been on strike and out of work about 3 months every 1 to 2 years and explained that if staying in the Air Force was up to him, and if he had that choice, he would stayed in for 20 years.
June 1966 I went from the 18th TFW, Kadena Okinawa to the 388 TFW, Korat, Thailand where I decided to re-enlist. This decision was based on the conversation I had with my Dad back in the early years of my first enlistment.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK. WHAT WAS YOUR REASON FOR LEAVING?
When I re-enlisted in 1966, I made the determination at that point to stay for the full 20 years. I was given the chance to receive my variable re-enlistment bonus tax free by flying in a C-130A aircraft over South Vietnam to Misawa AB, Japan delivering communications equipment.
I have never been sorry for the decision I made based on my Dad’s input. My career spanned 20+ years with the shortest assignment of a year while at Osan AB, Korea and the longest of 3.5 years while assigned to FTD 908, Lakenheath AB, England. I averaged a move about every two years.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
Yes, if this question also includes combat support while I was stationed with the 388 TFW, Korat Thailand from June 1966 to June 1967.
For humanitarian operations I was involved in the clean up of the Gulf Coast after it was decimated by Hurricane Camille.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Some of my finest memories are of the six years as a Nav-Aides System Instructor which started in 1969 and lasted until 1975. That teaching path continued after retiring while I was employed by Telemedia in support of technical training of the TNI-Au, Indonesian Air Force from October 1983 to October 1986. On return from Indonesia in August of the following year I was employed by Raytheon Marine Company as Senior Instructor for Shipboard Surface Search Radar and Automatic Radar Plotting Aides (ARPA).
Of all 15 assignments, probably my best memories are while stationed at FTD 908, RAF Lakenheath, England (longest assignment) as the Navigation Aids Instructor. This detachment comprised a very close knit group of professionals that while on duty performed the training requirement for the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing and when tasked, the training requirement of United States Air force Europe (USAFE).
My least favorite and also my first and shortest assignment was of Lackland AFB, TX. I grew up on a farm in Vermont and this was my first time to be away from home and my family. Needless to say this was a culture shock plus an eye opener as to what the military was all about: discipline, following orders without question, discipline, discipline and even more discipline.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
In August 1969, Hurricane Camille, the third and strongest tropical cyclone and second hurricane during the 1969 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall at Waveland, Mississippi, causing massive damage and destruction across much of the Gulf Coast of the United States. There was additional flooding and deaths inland while crossing the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. It was the second of three catastrophic Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the United States during the 20th century.
The Coast Guard, Air Force, Army, Army Corps of Engineers, Navy, and Marine Corps all helped with evacuations, search and rescue, clearing debris, and distribution of food. I was stationed at Kessler AFB, Mississippi at the time and we were sent in to help clear fallen trees in the Biloxi, Mississippi area. I was in charge of one of the many chainsaw details charged with this mission. This was a very demanding as well as rewarding detail and I still remember as if it was yesterday.
In total, Camille killed 259 people and caused $1.42 billion (equivalent to $9.13 billion in 2014 dollars) in damages.
In August 2005, thirty six years after Camille, Hurricane Katrina’s winds and storm surge reached the Mississippi coastline killing 234 people.
WHAT ACHIEVEMENT(S) ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF FROM YOUR MILITARY CAREER? IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR OTHER SIGNIFICANT AWARDS, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
Air Force Commendation Medal (1st Award). Order G333, 14 July 1967 – By direction of the Secretary of the Air Force, the AF Commendation Medal was awarded for meritorious service during 15 June 1966 to 11 June 1967 while assigned to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base Thailand.
Air Force Commendation Medal (2nd Award) Order G56, 23 Oct 1969 – By direction of the Secretary of the Air Force, the AF Commendation Medal was awarded for outstanding achievement during 17 Aug 1969 to 1 Sept 1969 while assigned to Keesler A FB MS for exemplary ability, diligence and devotion duty during the clean-up after Hurricane Camille.
Air Force Commendation Medal (3rd Award) Order GA-0112, 15 Sep 1978 – By direction of the Secretary of the Air Force, the AF Commendation Medal was awarded for outstanding achievement during 23 Mar 1977 to 21 Sept 1978 while assigned to 6100 LSS, Kadena AB Japan.
Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding service as NCOIC, Navigation Section and Communication-Navigation Branch NCOIC, 62d Avionics Maintenance Squadron, McChord AFB, Washington from 2 August 1982 to 30 June 1983.
Read the service reflections of US Airman:
CMSgt William Hamilton
U.S. Air Force
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I was born in the Air Force. My father was stationed in Waco, Texas when I was born in an Air Force hospital. I grew up moving every year to a new assignment with my father, mom and sister. I loved living near the airplanes and the annual airshows was one of the best days of the year. By the time I started high school other things had peaked my interest, mainly sports and girls and not necessarily in that order. This was the late 60’s and Vietnam was in the headlines every night. My older classmates were joining up or getting drafted and it was a noble and honorable thing. By my graduation year in 1970, the war had turned ugly and the media and public were protesting it nightly. My father had retired from the Air Force and we lived miles from any air bases. I had a fairly high draft number and sat out my “draftable” year in college without any concerns about military service. Within a couple of years, I got married, got a job and started my adulthood. By 1975 I really started thinking about the military again. I’d watch aircraft contrails fly high overhead and wonder where they were headed. I started reading aviation books and magazines again. I went to the Air Force recruiters and took the AFQT to see what I was qualified to do. I did well but recruiters have a job and that is to put people in career fields that have shortages. I held out for a while as I learned more about jobs which would allow me to fly initially.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I wanted to fly. As an enlisted person, my options were limited. Aircraft loadmaster was one of the few jobs that allowed me to fly so that’s what I signed up for. I became a C-141A loadmaster and enjoyed it greatly. After about 8 years and 5000 flying hours I became a MAC ALCE loadmaster for about 10 years and got a much better view of the big picture through the Wing, numbered AF and HQ deployments. I then became an Air Reserve Technician and returned to the flying squadrons as a Scheduler/Training NCO and Flight Examiner. I later became the squadron loadmaster supervisor and then squadron superintendent before moving to the group retiring as a group enlisted superintendent for six squadrons.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
In 1979 and early 1980 I flew several support missions which were part of the Iranian Rescue mission attempt. It was all very secretive and since it was not successfully executed, not much ever came out publicly. I flew several support missions into Grenada after the invasion in 1983. One of them was dragging back several Army helicopters shot up in the operation. Also flew several missions into Panama after the successful invasion there in 1989. In August of 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I deployed as an ALCE Loadmaster for nearly three months. We got the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Stewart, GA shipped out of town and over to the desert. I then deployed forward for nearly nine months as the ALCE Superintendent in the 1610 Airlift Division in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By 1993 I returned to flying full time as a C-141 loadmaster and flew combat support missions into Bosnia in the mid-90’s. I flew into the Kosovo Theater in 1999 during NATO operations following my transition to a new C-17 squadron. Following the 9/11 Terrorist’s attacks, I flew many missions supporting combat operations into Afghanistan and later Iraq when we went into there in 2003. All my wartime service was significant to me.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Being assigned to the 1610th Airlift Division during the first Gulf War in 1990-91. I really had a great sense of accomplishment with what we had done when it was all over.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Going to Saudi Arabia in 1990 was probably the most rewarding assignment of my career. Throughout the late 70’s and 80’s we built up our military and trained as though WWIII with the Russians could start at any moment. By 1990 we were be best trained and equipped military the world has ever seen. All that training paid off and we continued to train in that desert environment until we picked the time and place we wanted to start the operation. I worked over 120 days in a row at one point with no time off. We worked 12-hour shifts but with travel time it became 14 to16 hour days. When I returned home in June of 1991, I was very proud of what we had accomplished and that all my training had finally been utilized.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I received a Bronze Star for my service during Operation DESERT STORM in 1991. I was awarded the Aerial Achievement Medal for flying combat missions during the NATO Operation in Kosovo in 1999. During Operation’s ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM I received several Air Medals. Like everybody else, I was just doing my job.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Bronze Star Medal in 1991 for Operation DESERT STORM since it was my highest. I deployed to Saudi, Kuwait, and Iraq and saw much of the carnage the Iraqis had inflected on Kuwait as well as the aftermath of our bombing operations on the Iraqi’s. The medal was totally unexpected but helped open many opportunities for me later in my career. However the Air Medal was the one I always coveted as a flyer. I didn’t get those till late in my career but the wait was worth it.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
No doubt that would have to be my first boss SMSgt Art Dodgins. He was a rough gruff WWII vet who I thought was a hundred years old at the time. He smoke unfiltered Pell Mell Red cigarettes and drank Scotch with just a splash of water. He mentored me without me having a clue what he was doing. He watched after me early in my career and told me when it was time for me to be an instructor and flight examiner and later leaving the unit and becoming an ALCE Loadmaster. It wasn’t until I became a SNCO that I realized what he was doing and I’ve tried to lead other young airman down that path. He knew what it took to get promoted and he made sure I was ready when the time came.
CCM Robert D. Chandler
U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?
When I was a young boy, on rainy days I would sit and look at my dad’s military photos and dream about the future and what it would be like to be in the United States Military. My dad served in the U. S. Army and the US Army Air Corps. Before that he had served in the CCCs (Civilian Conservation Corp). On Saturday nights, my dad, brother and I would shine our shoes for church on Sunday, and my dad would press our trousers with a sharp crease like he did while he was serving in the military. He taught us close order drill with a broom stick when we were 9 years old and 10 years old.
By the time I finished High School and had 57 hours of college, the Vietnam War was in full force. My buddy, Gary Lane, and I decided to enlist into the USAF in January 1966. We were set to ship out to Lackland AFB in February but an outbreak of meningitis kept us from enlisting until March 9, 1966. A hit tune by Barry Sadler called the Green Berets was playing on the radio, young men were joining the military left and right and I did not want to miss my chance of being in uniform so I joined the USAF as planned.
My dad said he would hate to see me leave home, but I would become a man and learn more in the USAF than in College. He was right!
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
After Basic Training at Lackland AFB in March – April 1966, I went to Shepard AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas for Basic Air Craft Loadmaster Training. I attended technical school there and learned all about C-124 cargo planes. Upon graduation from Tech School in July 1966, I got orders to reportto the 36th Troop Carrier Squadron at Langley AFB, Virginia. After more ground training, I took my first flight on a C-130E on August 24, 1966.
In October 1966, I was sent to the 37th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Langley and was promoted to A2C. I started airdrop training and by January 1967 I was Combat Ready on the C-130E. I loved flying and my career field and volunteered for every mission. My first cross country was in October 1966 to Lajes Field, Azores. The flight back to Langley took 9 hours because of headwinds all the way home.
In November 1968 I was transferred to the 38th Airlift Squadron and about a few weeks later received order to report to Fairchild AFB, Washington for Combat Survival Training and after that report to the 774th TAS at Clark Field, Philippines.
I arrived at Clark Air Base on February 3, 1969 and went on my first mission to South Vietnam a week later. I rotated in and out of Vietnam until March 1970 and I got out of the USAF and returned to West Virginia.
In September 1971, I joined the West Virginia Air National Guard and became an Aircraft Loadmaster on C-119 cargo planes. In 1975, I graduated from the NCO Academy at Knoxville, Tennessee in May and went to work for the West Virginia Air National Guard as a full-time Technician as an Aircraft Loadmaster. Our unit got C-130s in November 1975 and I thought I had died and went to heaven. I was going to live at home and do the same job I loved in the regular Air Force.
I flew with the 130th Airlift Squadron from 1971 until 25 January 2001. I had become the first Command Chief of the 130th Airlift Wing in August 1996 and to become a State Command Chief, I had to hang up my wings. It was a difficult decision but I was selected to become the State Command Chief of West Virginia and finished my flying career with 11, 1407 hours of flying time. I was truly blessed, having traveled to 77 countries and all 50 states and territories.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
I participated in Combat Operations from February 1969 until March 1970 while flying missions on C-130B aircraft out of Clark AB, Philippines. We flew from the DMZ at Dong Ha in the north, to the Mekong Delta in the south and everything in between. We airlifted cannon barrels for artillery pieces, food, ammo, passengers, and body bags of young Americans. We also airdropped 10,000 pound bombs in an operation called Commando Vault. We airdropped Blu-82s to make helicopter landing zones. Photo of a Blue-82 loaded for a mission.
In 1991 we flew combat missions in the Persian Gulf War. After the war had ended, we flew a mission over the battle fields and airdropped 37,000 pounds of clothing to a prisoner of war camp on the border of Kuwait and Iraq. The tracks were still fresh in the sand as we flew to our Drop Zone.
During the War in Bosnia, we flew supply missions to our forces on the ground.