Recently, a younger acquaintance of mine, an actor on stage and screen, mentioned with disgust the circus-like atmosphere that pervaded the trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife.  I noted that early on in the trial, Judge Lance Ito simply lost control of the proceedings, and the “Dream Team” of defense attorneys ran the show.  I also noted that an earlier trial that had the potential of becoming an even greater circus was conducted in a manner opposite that of the Simpson debacle.  Part of the credit for the difference goes to highly competent prosecutors, unlike the feckless pair of prosecutors in the Simpson trial, but the principal difference was the quiet authority and command presence of the judge, California native Charles H. Older.  My younger acquaintance knew nothing of Judge Older, although they both graduated—more than four decades apart—from the same high school.

The Hanford-born but Los Angeles-reared Chuck Older was not only a top athlete at Beverly Hills High School in the early-to-mid 1930’s but an Eagle Scout and the student-body president.  He went on to UCLA, planning on attending law school immediately after graduation.  However, as he recalled, he changed his plans with

the arrival on campus of a Lt. (JG) Naval Aviator in full uniform with gold wings, bent on recruiting cadets for naval aviation. . . . The uniform and gold wings, together with talk of hammerhead stalls, snap rolls, chandelles, carrier landings, dive bombing and tight formations proved irresistible.

Upon graduation in 1939, Older reported to the Navy flight school at Pensacola.

By April 1940 Older had earned his wings and a reserve commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  He was assigned to Fighting Squadron One at Quantico, which trained intensively at Quantico and Guantanamo.  It was while flying in the Caribbean during the spring of 1941 that he first heard rumors of a force of American pilots being organized for action in China.  Back at Quantico he learned that President Roosevelt had authorized pilots to resign their commissions to join the American Volunteer Group, soon known popularly as the Flying Tigers.  By late August 1941, Older and two of his Marine pilot buddies were on a Dutch ship sailing for the Orient.

They reached the Tiger base at Toungoo, 175 miles north of Rangoon, in Burma in October and were assigned to the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, the Hell’s Angels.  Older saw his first aerial combat over Rangoon on December 23 against a “huge conglomeration of airplanes . . . more than I’d ever seen together at one time.”  He attacked them from below and knocked two bombers out of the formation.  On Christmas Day he blew another three Japanese planes out of the sky and, with five kills, became an ace.  These victories over British-held Rangoon came against tremendous odds, with the Japanese putting 200 bombers and fighters at a time into the sky and outnumbering the Americans by a dozen to one.  “The victories of these Americans over the rice paddies of Burma,” proclaimed Winston Churchill, “are comparable in character if not in scope with those won by the R.A.F. over the hop fields of Kent in the Battle of Britain.”

Despite the heroics of the Flying Tigers, the British would soon abandon Rangoon, and the Hell’s Angels flew north to Kunming in China, joining the other two squadrons of the AVG already stationed there and continuing the fight against the Japanese.  Before the Flying Tigers were formally disbanded on July 4, 1942, Older would score five more kills for a total of ten.

Once back in the States, Older did not rejoin the Marine Corps but was commissioned a captain in the Army Air Corps.  He returned to China in the spring of 1944, assigned to the 14th Air Force, and reunited with David “Tex” Hill and Ed Rector, both veterans of the Flying Tigers.  Older led the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron on the famous first strike on Shanghai in January 1945.  Together with the 74th Squadron, the 118th destroyed 72 Japanese aircraft on the ground and five in the air.  By the end of the war Older was a lieutenant colonel with 18 victories.

Older finally entered law school at the University of Southern California in 1949, a delay of ten years, but upon completion of his first year was called back to active duty for combat operations in Korea.  He eventually did finish law school and joined a firm in Los Angeles.  In 1968 California Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Superior Court bench in Los Angeles.  Two years later he was assigned as trial judge in State of California v. Charles Manson.  There were several threats on Judge Older’s life, but he refused any special protection.  It was said that, under his robe and on his hip, was his World War II Colt .45.