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Vail Daily letter: McNamara’s mark

Christina Olds
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

I read with great interest the letter from Mike Mathias on Robert McNamara. I am the daughter of a well-known fighter pilot (now deceased) from the Vietnam years, and he experienced the full-blown effect of McNamara’s obsession with statistics.

My dad was Col. Robin Olds, the wing commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon, 1966-1967. I’ve just completed his memoirs (to be published next spring by St. Martin’s Press), and he left many notes about the difficulty of dealing with McNamara and his armchair cronies.

They convinced LBJ that based upon statistics, it made more sense to force more sorties each day by fighter and bomber wings into North Vietnam to bring pressure upon Hanoi to “give in” than to extend the reach of each mission to hit effective targets.

This was a plan called “Rapid Roger,” and it was a disaster for the pilots and the maintenance crews because flight schedules changed so one aircraft had to be turned around three times a day, meaning full maintenance and rearmament, with around-the-clock crews.

The toll on the men was unreal. The crew chiefs and maintenance squadrons would get two hours of sleep a day, often by stretching out on the tarmac in the shade of their birds. As time went on, it was shown that this was not only an unproductive strategy, it was a destructive one, and LBJ called a halt after endless reports from commanders like my dad and generals up the chain of command.

“Rapid Roger” was started up again briefly three months later but called off quickly again as the statistics so obsessively collected half a world away in the comfort of Washington, D.C., proved a complete failure.

My dad and his entire wing held a gleeful midnight burial service, coffin in the ground, headstone marked “Rapid Roger” and all.

The day after Robin returned from a year of 152 missions as wing commander, he was called into LBJ’s Oval Office to give the commander in chief his opinion of how the effort was going in Southeast Asia.

My dad basically said to LBJ, “With all due respect, sir, get us out of this goddamned war!”

When LBJ asked, “How?” my father replied, “It’s simple: Just win it!”

Yes, Robert McNamara left his mark. No doubt about it.

Christina Olds


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