Legendary fighter ace inspires young troops during Kunsan visit
September 29, 2003
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — An American fighter ace who downed 17 enemy planes in two wars was in Korea last week to spend time with the Air Force fighter wing he once commanded.
Robin Olds, a retired brigadier general, now 81, came to Kunsan Air Base for a three-day visit with the 8th Fighter Wing, which regards him as a “living legend.” He talked to airmen, fielded questions, dined and played golf.
During World War II, Olds shot down 13 German planes and destroyed another 11 on the ground. In Vietnam, he shot down four communist North Vietnamese MiG jet fighters.
The wing, known as the “Wolf Pack,” traces its nickname to Olds and the Vietnam War.
“We invited Gen. Olds here so our young warriors could be inspired by a living legend,” Col. Robin Rand, the 8th’s commander, said in an Air Force news release.
Though now designated the 8th Fighter Wing, the unit was called the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing when Olds, then a colonel, served as commander from September 1966 to September 1967 at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. That’s when he masterminded Operation Bolo, a fighter sweep that lured communist North Vietnamese MiG-21 fighter jets into a trap: 8th TFW F-4 Phantom jets jumped them and downed seven MiGs with no U.S. losses.
Olds recognized that U.S. Air Force F-105 Thunderchiefs routinely used the same call signs, routes and altitudes in flights over North Vietnam, and that the North Vietnamese deemed the F-105s more vulnerable than the F-4s. So he conceived a ruse: He’d lead a big formation of F-4s over the North, but they’d use the same call signs and flight paths of the F-105s, hoping the MiGs would attack what they thought to be Thunderchiefs.
On January 2, 1967, the Phantoms took off. The MiGs showed up, the Phantoms pounced and shot seven MiGs out of the skies.
After Bolo, Olds was called to Saigon, where he fielded reporters’ questions about the successful mission.
“They asked me to describe it, and I don’t remember the exact words,” Olds said in a telephone interview Friday. “But I remember saying something like … ‘We lured them up, they took the bait, we fought, and they lost.’”
In the final briefing before the mission, Olds recalled saying, “OK, you Wolf Pack, let’s go!” It was a “whoop-and-a-holler, and away we went. And to this day, the 8th Fighter Wing uses the name, ‘Wolf Pack.’”
Olds took the name from the World War II-era 56th Fighter Group, a unit that boasted many fighter aces. “So 22 years later … I ‘purloined’ the term,” he said.
Olds returned to the United States in December 1967 and became commandant of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.. He held that post until January 1971 and retired from the Air Force in 1973.
Capt. Chris Penningroth, an F-16 fighter pilot with Kunsan’s 35th Fighter Squadron, got to hear the 6-foot-2-inch Olds speak to wing members Thursday.
“He’s a physically big man,” said Penningroth. “Listening to him talk, you get a strong sense of his integrity. So from a moral standpoint, I’d say, strength. He’s an American, almost stereotypical fighter pilot, as it were, warrior.”
Airman 1st Class Oscar Alicea, a personnel clerk with the 8th Mission Support Squadron, was also impressed.
“I think he’s a hero,” he said. “He’s an ace fighter pilot … we’re all very proud here of the Wolf Pack, and its been an honor really to have him here.”