- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Workers set the first piece of the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington yesterday, marking the beginning of construction of a monument to the only military branch without a symbolic shrine in the D.C. area.

“We’ve obviously been working on this project for a long time, and it’s a great day to finally see the centerpiece of the memorial be erected,” said retired Maj. Gen. Edward F. Grillo Jr., president of the Air Force Memorial Foundation, which has raised more than $45 million for the project.

“It’s beginning to take shape to where we’re honoring the millions of people that have served in the Air Force and will serve in the future,” he said.

The focal point of the more than $30 million memorial will be three massive spires that overlook the Pentagon, next to Arlington National Cemetery, east of the Navy Annex.

With the help of an attentive construction crew early yesterday morning, a massive crane lifted a 40-foot tall, 57,000-pound stainless-steel base section for one of the spires high into the air and maneuvered it onto a bed of concrete reinforcing bars. The crew then worked to bolt down the base.

The section will serve as the base for the monument’s second-highest spire, which willreach 231 feet into the air. The other two spires will reach 270 and 201 feet.

“It will be a very prominent memorial and yet a very graceful memorial,” Gen. Grillo said.

The three spires, which will be delivered in 15 segments during the next four months, will soar skyward to evoke the bomb-burst formation of the Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying team and symbolize the three core values of the Air Force — excellence, service and integrity.

The memorial was designed by the now-deceased architect James Ingo Freed of the New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP. Mr. Freed, who died in December, also designed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in the District.

In his architect’s statement for the Air Force Memorial, Mr. Freed wrote, “The Memorial is rooted in the necessary symbolic transition of making the medium of the Air Force visible … the core of this effort lies in making air tangible, making technology felt.”

The memorial’s site — which will include a “runway” to the monument, inscription walls, an honor-guard sculpture and a glass contemplation wall — became a subject of disagreement between rival military branches in recent years.

The National Park Service, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission originally approved plans for a 50-foot-high Air Force star to stand about 600 feet south of the Iwo Jima Memorial and northeast of the Netherlands Carillon, in a wooded area on Arlington Ridge, according to the memorial foundation’s Web site.

But complaints by current and former Marines, including several members of Congress, that the Air Force memorial intruded on the Iwo Jima shrine prompted the service chiefs of the two branches to agree to move the site.

Congress then authorized placement of the memorial at its current location — just off Interstate 395, on Columbia Pike in Arlington — in the 2002 defense authorization bill.

“It establishes a memorial core for Arlington, which is terrific,” said Barbara A. Favola, an Arlington County Board member who served as its chairman during part of the memorial’s site proceedings. “It really is going to be a fabulous gateway to the whole Columbia Pike area.”

Yesterday’s placement was the third attempt at setting the base after crews encountered minor alignment problems when trying to set the piece last week, however, officials said the memorial still is on schedule to be completed by mid-September.

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