Handlebar, pencil, or toothbrush? A gallery of famous aviators' 'staches in honor of a fuzzy Air Force tradition.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, December 2012
And here’s the man alleged to have started it all, Brigadier General Robin Olds, commander of the U.S. Air Force 8th Tactical Fighter Wing during "Rolling Thunder," the first sustained U.S. air assault on North Vietnam. The leader of the F-4 Wolfpack, Olds writes in his memoir Fighter Pilot, “[In 1966,] Evenings at the O club were great fun. The ‘Wolfpack’ had taken on a life of its own. A new spirit and camaraderie evolved. One evening I sat at the bar talking to a young guy named John Harris, who sported a nice, neatly trimmed, regulation mustache. I asked him if he thought I’d look good in one. What did I expect him to respond, ‘No, Colonel’? Starting that day, I grew my mustache. When it had respectable growth to the edges of my mouth (still correctly trimmed) I decided the David Niven look wasn’t for me. What the hell, I’d look a whole lot better with a full Tommy Burne-type World War II mustache, so it grew well beyond the regulations. What was anybody going to do—send the secretary of the air force over to knock me out, sit on me, and shave it off? It became the middle finger I couldn’t raise in PR photographs. The mustache became my silent last word in the verbal battles I was losing with higher headquarters on rules, targets, and fighting the war.”
Upon his return to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Olds met with General John P. McConnell, chief of staff of the USAF. Olds writes, "The general pointed a forefinger under my nose and said, 'Take it off!' Just like that. He obviously meant my rather flamboyant mustache, which I knew somehow had outgrown all semblance of air force propriety. To tell the truth, I wasn't all that fond of the damned thing by then, but it had become a symbol for the men in the 8th Wing. I knew McConnell understood. During his visits to Ubon over the past year he had never referred to my breach of military standards, just seemed rather amused at the variety of 'staches sported by many of the troops. His 'Take it off!' was the most direct order I had received in twenty-four years of service."