Monday, April 11, 2011

Rumors Rising

The Internet has made rumors a growth industry. Whereas it used to be a slow flow like lava down a mountain side or mold up a basement wall, now rumors pop up like herpes on a Jersey Shore video set. You spray them down with max performance antibiotics and in a few months or maybe a year or two they rise like Lazarus from the grave.

Anyone who has ever heard of Robin Olds has heard the story of Robin's conflict of interest in Vietnam. He was the inveterate fighter pilot; the quintessential air warrior in the mold of the Red Baron. He roamed the airspace, sought out the enemy and shot him down. There was no doubt that he believed that "anything else is rubbish." Robin killed MiGs. He killed MiGs by finding them and defeating them. When the rest of us might see a MiG or two in a month, Robin brought the right bait or found the right honey hole. When a few people got "a MiG", Robin got several.

But that created the problem. Robin was also a leader. He saw a wing in combat that needed a model and a method of winning.They needed a spirit of fighting that hadn't coalesced the way that he knew it should. He saw an entire war that lacked the drive to be effective and he knew that he could instill that warrior ethos. The problem was that the Air Force didn't care about the leadership thing. They wanted Robin to be a poster boy. They wanted a Vietnam ace. A fifth kill would make Robin a Vietnam ace and even better make him a two-war, triple ace fighter pilot. It would put him on the celebrity talk show circuit. Front page for Time/Newsweek, an hour on the couch with Johnny Carson, a book deal with Random House and an address to a joint session of Congress. It would also take him out of his position as Wing Commander of the 8th Tac Fighter Wing.

The rumors have swirled for years that Robin got more than four MiGs. He got five, they say. Or maybe even a sixth. Was a seventh not a possible?

I've always said no. When it comes up I offer this list of reasons:

  1. The AOB (Air-Order-of-Battle)  for the VPAF was a daily update briefing item. If a MiG disappeared, it would need to be accounted for.
  2. Weapons expenditures by USAF were closely logged; every missile was counted. 
  3. DISCO, Red Crown, even Lion and Panama had radar coverage over the area.
  4. Multiple audio monitors, including HUMINT VPAF intercepts covered that battle space. The tapes have all the conversations on all the channels.
  5. Pack VI missions were multi-player gaggles from multiple bases. No other observers of a kill is unlikely.
  6. An F-4 is a two-seat airplane and if Robin got a kill that he didn’t claim, he would be denying a WSO a very important achievement. Giving someone else a kill they didn't earn would be asking others to abet his own lie.
  7. Robin balanced the question of completing his Wing CC year against the hullabaloo of a fifth kill and he speaks candidly of things he did such as not leading flights, supporting other Wolfpack pilots, etc. in gaining kills.
  8. Robin was known for his integrity. How could you balance that against this sort of falsification. 
  9. MiG kills hidden would have required collusion of dozens of people and denial of records from a wide range of sources
In the last two weeks I've gotten some emails from some previously unknown sources and some old friends that I deeply respect. One is a very experienced F-105 pilot that was on the scene of an apparent kill and it seems to support the missing number five. 

Today there is a new input including some queries from Fox News. The evidence seems to be shifting and I'm on the verge of changing my mind. 

If there is a fifth kill then I firmly believe Robin should get credit for it. There are some folks who don't like that idea and one or two whose egos might really suffer some damage, but that wouldn't make me feel too bad at all. 

This is still developing and nothing is ready to be taken to the bank. I'll know more about a month from now when I've had some face-to-face discussions with some players on this. 


juvat said...

Yep, I'll just bet there might be some egos involved (mild understatement). As they say, "keep us posted."

Anna said...

Fighter pilot ego is never a small matter. :)

Yeah keep us posted. The way you portrayed Robin in your book, I can see him not claiming a kill just so he could stay with his men.

Davidwhitewolf said...

On integrity, I'd note that one George Washington was a consummate spymaster and well-versed in deceit for the greater cause.

I look forward to reading your book and learning more about Robin Olds.

drjim said...

I work with a gentlemen that flew with Robin in Nam.
I'll ask him what his opinion on this is.