Yesterday we laid a hero to rest. Fighter pilots from across the nation came together at the US Air Force Academy to remember, to honor and to memorialize Brigadier General Robin Olds. The events were extremely moving with full military honors, copious tears, hearty laughs remembering the great times shared and prodigious consumption of adult beverages. Robin wanted it that way. He earned the honors more completely than many who have passed before. The affection that those of us who knew him carried for the man led to the tears and the wonderful memories of his grand sense of humor prompted the laughs. The consumption of adult beverages was exactly what he would have led were he still alive to join us.
Minimalist Insight Into a Giant's Life
The formal ceremony at the Air Force Academy chapel was highlighted by reminiscences from his friends, his two daughters and his granddaughter who tearfully recalled the lessons he taught her and finished with a reading of John Gillespie Magee’s poem, “High Flight”. General Ralph Eberhart, now wearing four stars, was a cadet when Robin, recently returned from the war in Southeast Asia was Commandant of Cadets at the Academy. He told of Robin’s impact in changing the emphasis at the Academy from “management” to LEADERSHIP and the unculcation of the warrior ethic. Brig. General Bob Titus, Robin’s closest friend, spoke eloquently of Robin’s larger-than-life impact on fighter pilots, the military, his friends, his family and his community. Verne Lundquist, hall-of-fame TV and radio sports announcer and neighbor of Robin during his final decades in Steamboat Springs CO, told wonderful stories of Robin’s love of life, his enthusiasm for golf and skiing and one amazing encounter between the triple ace fighter pilot and Olympic Gold Medal ice skating legend, Scott Hamilton.
The long stairway and approach to the chapel was lined first with an incredible contigent of bikers in Harley-Davidson regalia standing at attention and holding eight foot standards with American flags. The stairs themselves were lined with the Academy cadet honor guards at stiff attention. The urn bearing Robin’s remains was carried into the Chapel by bearers from the USAF color guard. The urn itself was a magificent case of dark mahogany adorned with brass plaque and bronze sculpted wreaths, topped by a two foot high eagle sculpture with wings spread and head held high. A truly fitting repository for the grand man.
The cemetery ceremony included the traditional 21 gun salute and taps. Then the air warrior was honored by a series of flybys commemorating much of his aviation life. Two T-33s, symbolic of the F-80 fighter that Robin flew with the first USAF aerial demonstration team, followed by a P-51 Mustang reminding of the aircraft in which he earned many of his WW II kills, then a MiG-17 to recall his adversary of the Vietnam war, a flight of four F-16s and finally a flight of four F-4Es executing the famous “Missing Man” fly-by. The F-4 pilots modified the pass and rendered the ultimate (and appropriate) honor—the leader of the formation, not the #3, executed the pull-up and departure from the flight. It reflected the truth that we all knew, Robin would always be our leader.
Flyby Honors Hero
The memorial then went to a nearby hotel where friends and family gathered to share drinks and great anecdotes of encounters over the years with General Olds. His daughter, Christina, spoke briefly of his life and then unveiled a small oak barrel, bound in brass and sealed bearing a small portion of Robin’s ashes. “He wouldn’t have wanted to miss the party,” she noted, “so here he is!” That was followed by unveiling of a plaster sculpture of Robin’s gloved hand displaying the single digit salute that so many of us received over the years and usually felt honored that he felt strongly enough about us to offer it.
Nickels on the grass were freely rendered, tears continued to flow, ribald songs were sung and I’m sure that from Valhalla, Robin looked down upon the party and smiled. What a ride it was.