President George W. Bush dedicated the United States Air Force Memorial Saturday, making it the last branch of the U.S. military to receive a memorial in the D.C. area.
Built adjacent to Arlington Cemetery, the Air Force Memorial features three stainless steel spires that curve up 270 feet into the sky. It was designed by James Ingo Freed, who also designed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The dedication ceremony featured the Chairman of the Air Force Memorial Foundation H. Ross Perot Jr., Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne. Participants watched a history of the U.S. aerial tradition from flyovers by antique warplanes from World War I to the present. The ceremony ended with an aerial salute, called the bomb-burst formation, by the Air Force Thunderbirds.
In his speech, Wynne explained that the three spires are significant because they represent the three values of the Air Force: integrity, service and excellence. They also represent the three main branches of the Air Force – active, guard and reserve – as well as the three domains of the Air Force – air, space and cyberspace.
Bush arrived in the middle of the ceremony to deliver the keynote address. He said he understands the importance of honoring military aviators, especially given that his father – the first President Bush – was shot down while a Navy pilot in World War II.
“A soldier can walk the battlefields where he once fought; a Marine can walk the beaches he once stormed; but an airman can never visit the patch of sky he raced across on a mission to defend freedom,” Bush said. “And so it’s fitting that, from this day forward, the men and women of the Air Force will have this memorial – a place here on the ground that recognizes their achievements and sacrifices in the skies above.”
Bush praised the branch’s role in the war on terror.
“Together with . forces from every service and a vast coalition of nations, the United States Air Force helped deliver justice to a regime nearly 7,000 miles away from the World Trade Center (Afghanistan), and helped put the terrorists on the run,” Bush said. “Five years have passed since the opening salvos in the war on terror, and every day in this war we depend on the skill and determination of the men and women of the United States Air Force.”
Only invited guests and the press were allowed onsite to watch the dedication ceremony. Thousands of civilians watched the ceremony broadcast live on large television panels at the U.S. Air Force Open House, which was in the Pentagon’s south parking lot.
The Open House, which ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Air Force, created in 1947. It featured exhibits from several different branches from the Air Force, including the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Air Force District of Washington and the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Core.
Sophomore Joseph Gallagher volunteered at the AFROTC booth, fielding questions from passers-by about the program. He is part of Howard University’s detachment 130, which includes students from Washington-area universities.
Gallagher said he was excited with the memorial’s design.
“It’s incredible,” Gallagher said. “It’s something I think was long overdue and something members of the Air Force both present and past can be proud of.”
The Air Force Open House also showcased Air Force military equipment, such as the MH-53J helicopter, usually used in special operations; the RQ-4 Global Hawk air reconnaissance plane; and mock-ups of the F-16 fighter jet and the F-35 joint strike fighter.
Visitors to the Open House ranged from Air Force cadets to retired officers, including second-year student Andrew Kuschenetrait and his classmates from a medical program at the National Naval Medicine Center in Maryland.
“I’m here to show support,” Kuschenetrait said. “It’s our first memorial. We haven’t had one until today.”
A memorial service was held Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the Air Force Memorial. The memorial was officially opened to the public Sunday at noon.
This article appeared in the October 16, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.