Brigadier General Robin Olds Bronze Figure Sculpture
Located at the Air Warrior Combat Memorial
USAF Academy Colorado
Dedicated 1 October 2021
The genesis of the Robin Olds sculpture began in 2011 at the 40th reunion of the class of 1971 when the class voted on a class gift to the Academy. It was unanimously decided to create a monumental portrait sculpture to honor our former commandant Brigadier General Robin Olds for three reasons. First, he was a triple ace in WW2 and Vietnam with 17 aerial victories to his name. Secondly, he was the “John Paul Jones” of the USAF and an exceptional, lead from in front, combat wing commander in Vietnam. His men idolized him and would follow him to hell and back…and often did. Finally, he was the beloved and admired commandant of cadets at the USAFA Academy for all four years of the class of 1971.
The class commissioned the creation of the statue to classmate and sculptor Jim Nance, who worked for 10 years on the project. Over these years, the class overcame many obstacles and together with supporters from other classes raised 1.4 million dollars, guided the project, and watched with awe, as it took on a life of its own and evolved from a single statue idea to a major memorial, the Air Warrior Combat Memorial. The AWCM, located near the Academy North gate, celebrates and honors the first 100 years of air power with the Robin Olds statue anchoring the center of the plaza. The memorial was dedicated on 1 October 2021 at the class of 1971’s 50th reunion.
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Cast in Fine Art Silicon Bronze in Loveland Colorado utilizing the time honored “Lost Wax” technique and weighing 1,000 pounds.The statue is technically “life size” which is a widely accepted term used to describe any figure sculpture less than 7 feet; the normal upper limit of human males. The actual total statue height is 6 ft 11 inches with an anatomical figure of 6 ft 6 inches with the boots and hat adding another 5 inches. This small increase over his actual height of 6 ft 2 gives the sculpture a more powerful effect and presence.
The figure is mounted on a 40 inch diameter bronze base which is 4 inches tall. The base contains approximately 40 inscribed brief, testimonial quotes from fellow warriors who knew and flew with him.
It also contains two inscribed messages from his daughter Christina and granddaughter Jenny in their own handwriting. The front of the base has a polished bronze engraving which reads “In Case of War Break Glass.”
The base is mounted on a concrete pedestal measuring 32 inches tall and 4 ft square at the top and 5 feet square at the bottom. The four sides are beveled at a 30 degree angle from the vertical and contain 4 bronze plaques honoring Robin Olds and his accomplishments
For best sunlight illuminating the face, the sculpture faces South west toward Pikes Peak and away from the B-52.
The sculpture depicts Robin Olds as an Air Force Colonel, circa 1966 -67 as commander of the 8th TFW at Ubon Royal Thai AF base, circa Operation Bolo complete with his world-famous mustache.
General Olds is shown in a classical standing pose termed “Contrapposto” by the ancient Greeks in which the weight of the body rests on one leg. In this case the left leg. In this pose the hip is higher on the weight bearing leg and downward on the other leg allowing the non-weight bearing leg to rest and extend further from the body. To retain balance the shoulders typically tilt in the opposite direction. This pose allows for a relaxed physical expression and more graceful posture.
The figure is twisting to his left with his left arm to the rear and right arm reaching across the body as if to draw a sword. Hands are grasping the two halves of his parachute harness leg strap pulling them together to buckle a connection. His head is tilted to the left and slightly downward.
The intent for this pose was to show him with implied motion as he prepares to enter the cockpit and do battle with the enemy. The facial expression is intent and determined and totally focused on the dangerous task ahead.
The clothing depicts the complete flight gear as it would look just before he entered the cockpit. In his flamboyant style he wears a 38 in a side holster supported by a webbed belt with modified cartridge holders. The survival knife on the chute strap is another important representation of a warrior. His hat is crushed down over his head in typical Olds fashion.
Pedestal Plaques +
Mounted on the four sides of the Olds statue pedestal are four cast bronze plaques measuring 34 inches wide and 17 inches tall: The Plaques taken together provide a deeper understanding of Robin Olds the man and warrior. One thousand years from now, a visitor will visit the site and when the sculpture is viewed through the lens of the words on these plaques, that visitor will come away with a better appreciation of who he was and why we honor him.
- Dedication Plaque +
- Robin Olds on Leadership ++
- The Warrior Code of Robin Olds ++
- Quotes From Robin Olds ++
Dedication Plaque +
Brigadier General, United States Air Force, USMA 1944
14 July 1922 – 14 June 2007Warrior, fighter pilot, triple ace, leader, patriot,
All- American athlete, scholar, tactician, friend, mentorDuring general Olds’ tenure at the USAF Academy as Commandant of Cadets, 1967 – 1971, he inspired and molded the character of seven classes of future officers. He was a role model and mentor and instilled in the cadet wing pride in the warrior ethos and the core values, which have guided our lives: integrity, duty before self, and excellence in all we do.It is with deep respect, admiration, and gratitude that the USAF Academy class of 1971 dedicates this sculpture and the air warrior combat memorial to the memory of “Our Commandant”.Blue Skies Robin
Robin Olds On Leadership Plaque +
ROBIN OLDS ON LEADERSHIP
“Here’s what I learned over the years: know the mission, what is expected of you and your people. Get to know those people, their attitudes, and expectations. Visit all the shops and sections. Ask questions. Don’t be shy. Learn what each does, how the parts fit into the whole. Find out what supplies and equipment are lacking, what the workers need. To whom does each shop chief report? Does that officer really know the people under him, is he aware of their needs, their training? Does that NCO supervise or just make out reports without checking facts? Remember, those reports eventually come to you. Don’t try to bullshit the troops, but make sure they know the buck stops with you, that you’ll shoulder the blame when things go wrong.
Correct without revenge or anger. Recognize accomplishment. Reward accordingly. Foster spirit through self-pride, not slogans, and never at the expense of another unit. It won’t take long, but only your genuine interest and concern, plus follow-up on your promises, will earn you respect. Out of that you gain loyalty and obedience. Your outfit will be a standout. But for god’s sake, don’t ever try to be popular; that weakens your position, and makes you vulnerable. Don’t have favorites; that breeds resentment. Respect the talents of your people. Have the courage to delegate responsibility and give the authority to go with it. Again, make clear to your troops you are the one who’ll take the heat.”
ROBIN’S FAVORITE POEM: “TO THE VALIANT” BY HENRY NEWBOLT, 1908
“To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize
To honor while you strike him down,
The foe who comes with angry eyes.
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.”
Warrior Code Of Robin Olds Plaque +
THE WARRIOR CODE OF ROBIN OLDS
1. Lead by example: Lead from in front. Never ask anyone to do something you would not do yourself. Don’t try to be popular, but be fair. Be generous with praise, constructive with criticism, and accept responsibility on yourself. Take the time to know your men and share a laugh.
2. Teamwork: Combat is no place for mavericks or loners. No one flies alone even in a single seat aircraft. In addition to crewmembers, you have wingmen and squadron mates, support aircraft, and a vast array of unsung warriors who support you and your mission. We all share victory.
3. Duty: No one likes a slacker; they invite defeat. 100% is not good enough. Give 110%. Strive to be the best you can be in everything you do. Know your job well and be dedicated to your mission.
4. Integrity: Believe in yourself and stick to your principles. Do what is right, not what is expedient or what you think someone else wants. Be dependable and reliable; if you give your word follow through.
5. Honesty: No one respects a “yes man.” That is the surest way to defeat. Be honest even if you may be shot for being the messenger of bad news. Be honest with your superiors, your comrades, and your subordinates and especially with yourself.
6. Loyalty: Loners never survive. Watch out for your comrades and they will watch out for you. Give your loyalty to each other, your squadron, other warriors, your service, and your country. Never let unit rivalry get in the way of loyalty to the service or mission.
7. Courage: Only a fool will swear he has never been scared. Fear is a natural instinct which puts us on guard. Courage is the ability to face your fear and do what you are trained to do in the face of death – fight. Courage is a key ingredient in success and victory.
8. Skill: now your equipment, know your mission, and know yourself. Practice and study until you are the best there can be. There can be no substitute for skill and knowledge in combat. Don’t let anyone outfly you.
9. Resourcefulness: only a crazy person would perform the same thing over and over, unsuccessfully, and expect a different result. If a tactic is not working, figure out why and change to something that will work. If you see a problem and the answer, speak – out you may be the only one.
Quotes From Robin Olds Plaque +
QUOTES FROM ROBIN OLDS
1. When outnumbered by the enemy the first thing you should do is praise the Lord for a Target Rich Environment.”
2. “Fighter pilot is an attitude. It is cockiness. It is aggressiveness. It is self-confidence. It is a streak of rebelliousness, and it is competitiveness. But there’s something else – there’s a spark. There’s a desire to be good. To do well in the eyes of your peers and in your own mind.”
3. “Go get’em wolf pack!” Spoken by Robin to his pilots before Operation Bolo.
4. Robin Olds’ quote after Bolo: “the MIGS came up, the MIGS were aggressive, we tangled, they lost.”
5. “I was a warrior, a leader. I devoted the entire 30 years of my career to the Air Force. I was devoted to the Air Force and the mission. I’d like to be remembered as someone who devoted the best part of his life to his men and his country.”
6. “I’d tell all young people entering military service to give everything of themselves, everything they have to give, to do their jobs well and honestly for their country. Go forward with an unselfish devotion to duty, honesty, and integrity, and with their heads held high.”
7. “In the military, people divide themselves into four major categories: there are the ‘me-firsters’, the ‘me-tooers’, the ‘deadwood’, and the ‘dedicated’. Be the dedicated!”
8. “Anybody who doesn’t have fear is an idiot. It’s just that you must make the fear work for you. When somebody shot at me, it made me madder than hell and all I wanted to do was shoot back.”
9. “I think it is love of that massive blue vault of sky that becomes your playground if you are a fighter pilot.”
10. “The proudest moment of my life was when my young men in the Wolf Pack picked me up and carried me on their shoulders after my final flight.”
Sculpting the Robin Olds Memorial +
In addition to flying C-141s in the Air Force during the Vietnam war and working as an airline pilot for 30 years, I have also been a portrait sculptor for most of my adult life. When I retired early from Northwest airlines in 2008, I began a second career as a monumental sculptor and with the encouragement and support of Air Force friends and brothers in arms, I have been truly blessed to have found a niche sculpting War Memorials. I have greatly appreciated all of these commissions, and all have been deeply meaningful, but the commission to sculpt a portrait of Robin Olds has been especially rewarding since he has always been one of my personal heroes. General Olds was the Commandant of Cadets at the USAF Academy for the entire 4 years I attended. To me and most cadets he was a larger-than-life epic warrior, father figure, and role model and we all looked up to him. I consider this commission the high point of my career.
In 2011 during our 40th reunion, the class voted unanimously to create this memorial and generously offered the commission to me. For 10 years I have dedicated my life to this task and vowed to fulfill the trust placed in me to create a work worthy of his memory.
An anatomically correct and graceful generic figure sculpture will take about 1,000 hours of sculpting. A portrait figure is a much greater challenge since the artist must capture not only a good likeness in the face but in the individual body language and pose. For this reason, a sensitive figure portrait can easily take 2,000 hours. Adding to this is the need to understand and authentically capture flight gear and uniforms.
The Olds sculpture was completed in clay in the summer of 2019, in time for casting to meet the original dedication date scheduled was for the fall of 2019. However, delays in hardscape construction made that date impossible. After considerable deliberation by the class gift committee, it was decided to move the dedication to our 50th reunion on 1 October 2021. This two-year extension was fortuitous since it gave me extra time to keep working on the sculpture in clay. During that time, I stared at the sculpture constantly and frequently made small tweeks and adjustments, which I believe considerably added to the personality of the portrait. Finally, I could do no more and cast it in bronze in the fall of 2020. It was then stored at my foundry until the dedication a year later.
The first step in the sculpting was to create a 40 inch clay model or maquette. This size has been used for millennia since it is large enough to capture likeness and grace in pose but small enough to allow revisions such as moving an arm. Most of Michelangelo’s figures begin in this manner. The maquette was completed back in 2012 and was used for all of the class presentations to approving officials.
Eventually the class was able to raise enough funds that we received approval and the sculpting on the full-size statue began in 2018. This step required enlarging the maquette to full size. This was done by scanning the maquette and using a CNC milling machine to mill it out in a hard lightweight foam. That foam was then mounted on a welded steel framework and clay applied to the surface. A full-size statue composed only of clay would weigh 1,000 pounds and would collapse under its own weight. The foam armature over a steel framework with a covering of clay weighs only about 200 pounds which is much more workable.
This foam enlargement is only a beginning because now the artist must re-sculpt the entire figure by hand and eye in clay over the enlargement. During this stage the sculpture takes on a life of its own and the composition improves dramatically and becomes more refined than the maquette. During the final sculpting the figure comes alive and seems to begin breathing as the personality of the subject shines though.
When the final clay is complete and approved the figure is cut into dozens of pieces and molds made to be used at the foundry. When all the pieces are cast in bronze, they are welded together under the close supervision of the artist to the original form and composition.
Another challenge to creating the Robin Olds sculpture was the need to understand and authentically capture the flight gear. To accomplish this, I purchased several thousand dollar’s worth of equipment from ebay to use as models for the clothing. I also relied on the kind assistance of several experts in the field of equipment such as Alexandro Villalva of the AF forensics lab.
When a posthumous portrait is created it is essential to obtain a large number of photographs of the subject from many different angles. Fortunately, there were many available of Robin Olds from the AF museum, friends, family, and the internet. Before beginning work, I collected and printed a file of almost 200 images. The key to sculpting a believable portrait from photographs is to understand that cameras and photographs lie; rarely do they depict an accurate proportion. Each image is different depending on the distance the camera is from the subject and the level of the lens. A shot from 5 feet away will be hugely distorted. If the camera was held level with the top of the head the bottom of the head will be foreshortened in the image. The opposite is true if level with the chin. If an artist was to slavishly follow the proportions seen in one photograph the result would be grossly distorted. The only way around this is to filter each image through an intimate knowledge of typical anatomy and to combine and interpret many different images into an accurate mental image of the subject. This is painstaking mental work and the reason a good portrait can take double the time of a generic figure.
For more discussion on the particulars of portrait sculpture please visit the menu page entitled “All About Portraits.”
Essay on the life of Robin Olds by James Nance +
Once in a great while, we encounter a larger-than-life individual who instantly captures our imagination and respect and inspires us in a larger-than-life way. I would propose that Robin Olds was just such a man. All one needed to do was meet him once and you were instantly impressed that you were in the presence of an uncommon individual; He was a huge, boisterous, flamboyant, swashbuckling, old-time warrior who cut through life with a wide wake and in the process left us stronger as a nation, service, and as individuals.
Robin Olds was of course a great pilot and warrior, but the Air Force and the Air Force Academy has produced many great pilots and warriors; so what sets him apart? His uniqueness covers many areas which taken in totality create a patriot who was dedicated to the Air Force and his country and led a life which embodied the Air Force core values, the honor code, and the warrior ethos. There is no better choice than Robin Olds to honor as a sculpture proxy for the Air Warrior Combat Memorial.
At the most basic level, Robin Olds was our connection with aviation history. His father Major General Robert Olds who was born in 1896 was an early aviation pioneer, aide to Billy Mitchell, and airpower advocate. As a small child Robin grew up in a military aviation family and cut his teeth listening to the stories and visions from his father’s friends such aviation greats as Hap Arnold, Billy Mitchell, Carl Spatz, Eddie Rickenbacker, Fiorella La Guardia, Roscoe Turner, and others. These dedicated individuals were struggling daily with the almost insurmountable task of convincing a calcified 19th century holdover General officer corps, who begin careers on horseback, that military aviation was a viable weapon. His father participated in the defense at the insubordination court martial of Billy Mitchell and later led the way in the development of precision daylight bombing and the B-17.
This early childhood influence surely contributed to a deep conviction that the welfare of the service and nation took precedence over dangerous misguided policies set by some individual officers. Long before someone wrote a code and entitled it the Air Force “Core Values,” Robin Olds lived them in his daily life. His father instilled in Robin the values of Integrity first, duty before self, and excellence in all he did; values which guided his service throughout his life. Standing on his father’s shoulders, Robin Olds path through life covered the entirety of military aviation; His life defined aviation and it was a privilege to know him. He is our connection to the past; Robin Olds is our heritage. All modern air warriors, regardless of aircraft, mission, or conflict stand on his broad shoulders.
As a West Point ’43 Grad Robin Olds also excelled in athletics and is the only person who is listed in both the aviation hall of fame and the college football hall of fame. He showed us through example of the important connection between athletics and academics, mind and body, discipline, and teamwork. Attributes, which made him excel in everything he did.
Occasionally someone who did not know him will refer to Robin Olds as a “Maverick.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The dictionary defines Maverick as: “One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group. One that operates independently, a Loner.” On the contrary, Robin Olds was a true team player who was always willing to give others credit, when a lesser commander might claim credit for himself. From lessons learned on the football field at West Point to the skies over Vietnam, Olds was a true believer in teamwork and preached the same to his men every day. In addition to building a team with in the 8TFW Olds spent considerable energy building bridges between rival units so that they could work more effectively together as a team. In his book, you can read for yourself the praise he gave other air warriors whether they were B-17 crews or C-135 tanker crews, all working as a team to the same end. In Thailand his mechanics would voluntarily workdays without sleep because they knew Olds respected their membership in the team and they were needed and appreciated. Robin Olds a Maverick? Not on your life!
Leadership and Combat Record:
Robin Olds excelled as a combat leader of men like no other. In the opinion of many, Robin Olds was one of the greatest aviation combat leaders our country has ever produced. This distinction in itself is worthy of recognition. Peace may be won by the masters of diplomacy and strategy, battles are won in the trenches by gutsy men like Robin Olds and the brave men he led and inspired.
Robin Olds was a dedicated and mission oriented individual, a team player who fiercely protected his men. As a triple ace from WW2 and Vietnam, he possessed a unique insight into tactics and leadership. His pilots would and did fly through hell and sometimes died for him. In an uncommon manner, he never ever asked anything of his men that he would not do himself. While the previous wing commander of the 8th TFW flew 18 missions in a year, Olds flew them all and stopped logging at 99 so he would not be sent home. He insisted on leading the most dangerous missions and when AF ordered him to stop leading missions, he flew wing.
After downing 4 MIGS he would always pass the kills to his wing man so again he would not be sent home as an ace. A lesser man with a self-serving ego would have been tempted to bag his 5th kill, go home early, and become the only person to be an ace in WW2 and Vietnam. Olds’s dedication and integrity would not even consider it, because it would mean leaving his assignment early and who would take care of his men? His tactical brilliance led to operation Bolo where his men shot down half the North Vietnamese Air Force’s Mig-21 fleet in single mission.
With his experience and tireless dedication, he influenced the air war in Vietnam like no other single individual. His persistence and arm twisting and telling the unvarnished and often unappreciated truth to superiors saved countless lives while drastically improving tactical results. He expected and demanded the same truthfulness from his men and encouraged constructive criticism of his own performance whenever possible.
His personal character was exemplary in the areas that really count. He was a legendary practical joker with a great sense of humor and knew how to use it to bolster morale. Olds’s life was the embodiment of the honor code. He was not a yes man and was truthful to superiors and men, never hesitating to suggest and campaign for safer and better tactics. One inevitable byproduct of this intensity was that superior and contemporary egos were sometimes bruised; in his fierce determination to win a war which our political leaders had no will to win, he occasionally earned the animosity of those who found it easier to shoot the messenger than address the problems. Yet ironically, on the day of his return home President Johnston called Colonel Olds to the Oval office to ask for an honest assessment on how the war was going. This unprecedented invitation alone is proof of his earned credibility.
On Being Controversial:
The term is defined in the dictionary as: “A prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention concerning a matter of opinion representing opposing sides in an argument.” Yes, Robin Olds was controversial in his career, few of his friends would disagree; and it was this personal courage and willingness to embrace controversy which set Robin Olds above others.
Human nature tends to institutionalize thinking. As soon as some idea become established, it becomes the Status Quo and institutionalized to the point that anyone offering a different viewpoint is considered a heretic and persecuted. Unfortunately, this leads to stagnation in all matters of life from art to warfare. As a society we need those individuals whose dedication and courage compels them to speak out and challenge the status quo whenever it becomes outdated and dangerous.
In fact, almost every advance human history in every field of endeavor has been brought about by a “controversial” individual whose integrity compelled them to speak out. Robin Olds integrity compelled him to speak out in Vietnam and contribute a positive change in air power policy.
If you ask most any Vietnam era pilot, who best represented the air war, most will answer Robin Olds. Many grads and AF pilots also exhibited superior airmanship and courage during the war. Why is Robin Olds so important to this group of aging warriors? Why do so many hold Robin Olds up in such high regard? The answer is; Olds by his untiring dedication to the USAF, personal leadership, and ferocious protection of his men became a willing lightening rod of controversy, which mirrored the controversy and contradictions of the war itself. As a front-line wing commander, when Olds spoke, he gave us all voice. Before his Vietnam tour, superior officers saw themselves as managers. Olds redefined the philosophy of “Follow me” and the Air Force relearned that an efficient commander lead by example.
So many of our grads and Vietnam veterans have unresolved conflict in their hearts from the war. They were often vilified by the public and sacrificed by politicians who had no will to win. Yet in the face of this overwhelming challenge our grads all served with honor, pride, and uncommon courage, and tried desperately to watch out for each other. When Olds legacy is minimized and his accomplishments ignored by certain politically correct individuals, thousands of veteran warriors take it very personally; they see this unjustified character assassination as a repeat of the vilification they all experienced and a cynical disrespect to the heroic accomplishments and sacrifices they all made in the selfless service to our country. Over the years, without asking for the honor, Robin Olds has become their proxy.
So, it is altogether fitting that Robin Olds finally be honored in bronze as the warrior proxy for the Air Warrior Combat Memorial. It is important to remember that this is not just a monument to Robin Olds but rather a memorial to all Air Warriors. Olds’s selection serves to symbolically and artistically reinforce the theme and message of “Fly, Fight, and Win” nothing more nothing less. I think that Robin Olds would have liked that concept. A monument to “honor” instead of himself.
If we now give Robin Olds, the honor he richly deserves we will also perform a much greater service; we will also be honoring every grad and every Air Force pilot who flew in Vietnam as well as every conflict. We will validate in our time, by his example, those values associated with every effective combat leader throughout history. Our recognition of him will be shared with pride by thousands and we will help offer some closure on the controversy that was Vietnam. This credit is long overdue.
Finally, Robin Olds was our Commandant. He belonged to the USAFA class of 1971. He arrived in our Doolie year and left when we graduated as an honorary member of our class. His arrival invigorated the cadet wing at a time when the flower power hippies and sheltered war protesters were vilifying every member of the military including us. He was a heroic figure at the right place at the right time and he gave us a manly role model to reignite our self-esteem. Gen Moreman understood this and specifically requested Olds just to improve cadet moral.
He was as loyal to us as he was to his combat pilots. When he arrived the honor code was suffering because it was being abused to make us incriminate ourselves. “Cadet have you violated any regs today?” Was a common question. Olds believed the honor code should be willingly embraced as a code by which we would lead our lives…. not a disciplinary weapon which would be resented and feared. Olds lived by the honor code his whole life.
If we screwed up, we received a royal chewing out, which would usually be followed by a behind the scenes “covering our 6” He was imminently fair and always listened to both sides of any situation before rendering a verdict. There are many of us who owe our graduation to his paternal protection and intervention. He was a true surrogate father to us all. He had a sign on his desk which read, “No one screws with my boys, that’s my job.”
We do not need to be fighter pilots or pilots to appreciate the lessons he preached. He challenged us to excel in everything we do, put integrity first, place duty to our country before ourselves, be truthful, take care of each other, and never be a slacker or a yes man. Whatever path we have taken in life, Military, Bankers, Doctors, Lawyers, or Airline pilots, everything, these down-to-earth values have paved our way and have made us better individuals.
Appropriately enough Robin Olds is buried at the Academy cemetery, where he continues to watch over us.
In conclusion, Robin Olds was a warrior, leader, and patriot who led a life which embodied our most sacred military values. There is no better person to serve as a warrior proxy in the Air Warrior Combat Memorial and no better leadership and warrior role model for our young cadets than Robin Olds.