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
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
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
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