Books: The life of an ace
How do you bring new light to story that you know by heart? Christina Olds, the daughter of legendary fighter pilot Robin Olds, set out to answer this question when she began writing her father’s memoirs. She sifted through box after box of newspaper clippings, magazine articles and journal entries to write the story of that spans not only his 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, but his entire life as a husband, father and fighter pilot.The son of regular Army Capt. Robert Olds, educated at West Point and the product of an upbringing in the early years of the U.S. Army Air Corps, Robin Olds epitomized the youthful World War II fighter pilot. He remained in the service as it became the Air Force and was one of its pioneer jet pilots. Rising to command of two fighter wings, Olds is regarded among aviation historians and his peers as the best wing commander of the Vietnam War, both for his air-fighting skills and his reputation as a combat leader.The Vail Daily interviewed Christina Olds:
A: My father started writing notes about his memories 25 years ago after much urging by friends and pilots who had served with him in World War II and Vietnam. By 2001, several published authors tried to convince him to let them finish his book.Tom Clancy even got on a plane and flew to Steamboat Springs (where my dad had retired) to ask if he could write Robin’s biography. Nothing doing. My dad said no thanks, nobody was going to put words in his mouth.When I took care of him in the months of his terminal illness, he expressed deep regret for not finishing his memoirs. I promised him I’d do it and he was delighted. He told me I was the only one he’d trust to do it anyway.He passed away on June 14, 2007, and I started organizing and writing in October of that year. It took me two years to pull it all together and complete the final editing.
It took massive research through all the papers and diaries my dad left – about 12 banker’s boxes and two foot-lockers filled with unorganized material, including magazine articles that had been written about him by others, official Pentagon interviews, squadron logs, mission debriefings, letters and stories sent in by pilots who had served with him. Fortunately, I was able to contact and interview many of the pilots he flew with in both World War II and Vietnam for first-hand accounts that I then wove into autobiographical form.
I’m about a third of the way through the tour, which at this point ends in the first week of November, and happy to be home in Colorado for a short time. I signed at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museums in Washington D.C., over Memorial Day weekend. Visitors came with entire families, and I was moved by the high number of boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 17 who sought out the book on their own. Those bright youngsters made me realize my dad’s story would affect their lives and our future.
His most lasting legacy goes beyond his absolute brilliance as a pilot to his outstanding talent as a leader. People who served with Robin were devoted to him. He let them know how much he cared about them at a deeply personal level. He was a people person, a gentleman and always generous with his time and gratitude. This held true across the board in his life, not only in military circles. The lesson is to care about others, to give of yourself, to be strong in self-esteem yet humble and grateful, and to always do your best.
The big, strapping, glamorous image of the tough warrior fighter pilot covered the softest and gentlest interior person I’ve ever met. He was a fallible human being, possessed of flaws and faults that all of us carry to some degree, but he always followed his heart and his instincts to do the right thing. Pilots tell me now there’s a new motto out in the flying world, and it’s growing day by day. When presented with a challenge, they ask themselves W.W.R.D? What Would Robin Do? That, to me, sums up how my father is going to be remembered.
Friend, leader, patriot.
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