San Diego Union Tribiune

October 15, 2006

President dedicates Air Force memorial

Soaring spires suggest planes flying in formation

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – President Bush yesterday joined the U.S. Air Force in dedicating the newest national memorial, a soaring trio of stainless-steel spires honoring the service and sacrifices of millions of airmen over a century of dangerous aerial experimentation and deadly conflict.

The $30 million hilltop memorial in Arlington, Va., overlooks the Pentagon and is designed to be as visually inspiring as the most famous of such edifices: the Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima statue.

 
 

The design was inspired by the dramatic bomb burst maneuver performed by flight demonstration teams such as the Air Force Thunderbirds, who concluded the dedication by tracing an identical pattern overhead in white smoke against a nearly cloudless blue sky.

“By its design, this monument raises our eyes toward the vast and open skies, and focuses our mind on the endless possibilities of human flight,” the president, a former Air National Guard fighter pilot, told the crowd.

Although soldiers and Marines can walk the fields or beaches on which they fought, the president said, “an airman can never visit the patch of sky he raced across on a mission to defend freedom. 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.”

For the ceremony, the Air Force assembled dozens of its former leaders and heroes, including several recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for heroism.

Retired Air Force Col. George E. “Bud” Day, who received the medal as a fighter pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam, called the memorial “marvelous, inspiring – it's a touching tribute. Certainly a long time coming.”

The dedication was the formal start to the celebration of next year's 60th anniversary of the Air Force's establishment as a separate service, after 39 years as part of the Army.

Day, one of the nation's most decorated veterans for service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, has his name engraved on a wall of honor at the memorial, along with some boyhood heroes, including aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh and Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, honored for leading the April 1942 bombing raid on Tokyo.

Dedication of the memorial was the climax of a 14-year effort by a foundation led by Ross Perot Jr., a Texas real estate developer and former Air Force Reserve fighter pilot. “To anybody who has been in the Air Force, this will be a very, very special place,” said Perot, son of the 1992 and 1996 presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

The memorial sits atop a steep hill in the Virginia suburb of Arlington, looking down at the Pentagon and beyond into Washington. Although physically not in the capital, it is visible from parts of the city and several major highways.

Architect James Ingo Freed designed the memorial. His other credits include the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. Freed died last year at 75.

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