A new Air Force Academy memorial includes a statue of colorful Vietnam War fighter pilot Col. Robin Olds. The academy unveiled the $1.4 million Air Warrior Combat Memorial on its campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Oct. 1, 2021.
A dominant feature is a 6-foot-4-inch bronze likeness of Olds, who had 17 shootdowns in World War II and Vietnam combined, making him a “triple ace.” Promoted to brigadier general after his return from Vietnam, Olds served as commandant of cadets at the academy from 1967 to 1971.
The Class of ’71 led the planning and fundraising efforts for the memorial, which took 11 years, and donated 90 percent of the costs. The memorial’s creation began in 2011 with discussions at the class’s 40th reunion. “We were eating pizza and having a beer. That’s how this started,” retired Col. Frank Morgan told the academy’s public affairs office. “We all knew we needed to do something.”
In addition to the bronze statue of Olds, the memorial features a 2,000-pound bronze model of an F-4 Phantom II with an 11-foot wingspan and a wall of 17 panels charting the history of air power over 100 years. The sculptor, Jim Nance, in an article published by The Gazette of Colorado Springs, said the memorial is “dedicated to everybody who had flown in harm’s way.”
Olds was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and received his commission as a second lieutenant in June 1943. During World War II, he flew the P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang, completing 107 combat missions.
During the Vietnam War, Olds became commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in September 1966 and began flying in an F-4 Phantom II in October of that year. He completed 152 combat missions, 105 of which were over North Vietnam. Olds is credited with shooting down two MIG-17 and two MIG-21 aircraft using air-to-air missiles. He returned to the U.S. in December 1967.
Survived by his larger-than-life personality, Olds is widely recognized for energizing the men under his command both in Vietnam and at the Air Force Academy. His statue is framed by a series of plaques reflecting his views on leadership and war. One of the quotes says: “When outnumbered by the enemy the first thing you should do is praise the Lord for a target-rich environment.”
Nance told The Gazette he intended the memorial to withstand the test of time. “A thousand years from now, if somebody comes and takes a look at this and they have no idea who he is, they will walk away with a deeper understanding of the person and not just what he accomplished.” V