Robin Olds Telling LBJ How To Win the Vietnam War

I have enjoyed my latest book, and I’m almost done. I ordered it based on this talk Christina Olds gave about her famous father, Robin.

Olds had always intended to write an autobiography, but it was not even started by the time he was dying. Christina promised him that she would do it, and I think her father would be proud of her. I believe that, like many in the 1940s, he kept a journal or diary because it is very detailed. One would think that General Olds himself wrote it.

Olds was the kind of leader that anyone would aspire to emulate, and he tells you his secrets in this book. When he came to Ubon, Thailand, he changed a lackluster Wing into a Wolfpack, no pun intended. One time, upon leaning that he was on the list to become a Brigadier General, he deliberately did something to sabotage that promotion, realizing that it would mean no more flying other than a desk.

He talks about Pardo’s Push, and Operation Bolo, which made him a household name in the US.

I think it could be said that he was not one to mince words, even to the President of the United States. Even at the expense of his Air Force Career.

That’s why I admire him.

Anyway at the conclusion of his Southeast Asia tour, he is escorted around Washington where, among other things, the Air Force Chief of Staff tells him to remove his famous mustache. The next morning he is told that he will be visiting LBJ at the Oval Office, and to report at 0900, where he will be met by the President’s Air Force aide.

After passing through the White House gate, we parked under the West Portico. The President’s Air Force aide, Colonel James Cross, met us in an outer office.… President Johnson stood ready to greet me and stepped forward to shake my hand. He was an imposing figure. Even slightly stooped, he was every bit as tall as I. His grip was firm and he was all smiles as he led me to a couch near the fireplace.… Then he asked my impressions of returning to Washington. I told him up I had heard about but had never seen a so-called hippie before. It was something of a culture shock to encounter thousands of them on the drive over. The president frowned a bit as he said, “they jus’ don’t understand what’s goin’ on and they raise hell about it. I got my two hunnert and forty thousand  boys over there in Vietnam and they’ll surely tell the American people what’s goin’ on when they get home“

This stunned me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A thought struck me hard: That’s your job, sir, yours and the Congress’s. I am afraid my next remark lacked any tact or diplomacy. I blurted out, “sir, I’ve been home for only about two hours but all my friends have been back for a while tell me civilians aren’t even slightly interested in what we’ve been doing this past year. In case I do run into someone who is curious, what do you suggest I tell them?“ With that, Colonel Cross damn near jerked my right sleeve off, but I had bit in my teeth and paid no attention to his warning.

The president looked at me sternly, then relaxed and said, “why, Colonel, you just tell ‘em we’re preventin’ the North Vietnamese from interferin’ with the South Vietnamese so these good people can exercise their own democracy.“

I guess I lost it, for I replied, Sir, I can’t say that”.

LBJ looked at me hard and asked, “Why not, Colonel?”

…(Johnson then asked)…”Well what do you think we should be doing?

“Sir, it takes three things for a country like North Vietnam to raise war: manpower, willpower and industrial power. They possess the first two requirements in abundance, but they have little if any industrial capability and must rely totally on others for their material needs. The bulk of those needs arrive in ships at Haiphong and several minor ports. Our bombing pressure keeps very little coming by rail out of China. Let us attack these ports, stifle their will, bottle up their manpower, and the job will be done.

The president was looking at me hard this whole time but didn’t interrupt. I plunged on. “In other words, mine the harbors, drop the road and rail bridges on the Chinese border, get the supply dumps in Cambodia, and most important, totally destroy the seat of government in Hanoi. It’s simple, sir, and with all due respect, the way to end this war is to just win the damn thing!”

I have quoted an internet friend of mine here from time to time – Along with being a test pilot post Vietnam, he flew F105s in Southeast Asia. Air Force and Navy pilots were usually given relatively useless targets with the Rules of Engagement prohibiting them from hitting many high-value targets.

He said it best and succinctly:

The politicians were more afraid of provoking the Russians and Chinese at the expense of our lives”.

In 1972, President Nixon, angry at the North Vietnamese for their behavior at the Paris Peace Talks, decided to mine Haiphong Harbor.

It stopped Soviet shipments of Arms to North Vietnam.

I often wonder if that would have made a difference in 1965.

The book is recommended.

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Filed under Air Force, Vietnam

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