- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

As the United States Air Force and the nation dedicates the U.S. Air Force Memorial this weekend on a ridge overlooking both Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, we might ponder the symbolism we attach, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, to the great Washington D.C.-area monuments to our military men and women and their uniformed services.

The Air Force Memorial is evocative of jet fighters or perhaps missiles, arcing toward the sky. The three silver rays of pointed light, 270 feet high, immediately strike the imagination by day. They positively shimmer in the sunlight. At night, they are perhaps even more breathtaking and sure to become enduring symbols of the Air Force and the National Capital Region for the rest of this century. The monument is uplifting and symbolizes power, skill and teamwork (after all, every pilot has at least one wingman).

The glowing shafts of arced and pointed metal certainly bring to mind destiny, the sky, the splendor and thrill of flight and even the rigors of challenging engineering and discovery in space. The monument in many ways reminds us of the culture of the U.S. Air Force: a melding of man, engineering and machine that “pushes the envelope” in its awe-inspiring greatness, just as generations of pilots and astronauts have pushed the envelope during flight and war. The words “sterling character” and “focused” come to mind.

The U.S. Air Force Memorial will somewhat dominate but not overshadow the other monuments to military men and women and their great accomplishments in service to this nation. It is a fitting new landmark and a cornerstone opposite the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, which houses so many historic aircraft and spacecraft. The new Air Force Monument reminds us of all pilots and astronauts memorialized in Ronald Reagan’s words: “They slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

Our monuments reflect who we are and remind us of our uniquely American culture as well as the culture of each of our military services. “Since ancient times, societies have sought to communicate their values, ideals, and heroic personalities to succeeding generations through the medium of sculpture,” wrote James Percoco in the Organization of American Historians Magazine in 1992. “The United States is no exception.”

Across Washington from the Air Force Memorial, one finds the United States Navy Memorial. Immediately one is frozen in recollection of the vastness and hostility of the sea. More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is sea, much of it roiling and tossing even the mightiest ships. And these great ships today are beneath the sea, upon the sea, and launching aircraft and missiles high above the sea and above nations far from shore. The mosaic covering the wide expanse of the floor of this outdoor monument depicts the map of the Earth with outlines of continents practically dwarfed by the oceans. Surrounding this mosaic, on almost one entire semicircle of the Earth, stand two columned, granite structures, reminding us of the power and might of the battleships, aircraft carries and many other ships through history from “Old Ironsides” to the USS Ronald Reagan.

To one side of the Earthlike mosaic stands “The Lone Sailor.” Not the crew but its sole subset: the man. And this lone sailor is obviously facing the elements. This sailor is covered in the warm wool of a “pea coat,” standard issue to sailors facing the cold, dark North Atlantic during winters in World War II. One can almost feel the sting of salt spray on the face. This is the spirit and culture of the Navy: resolute and true.

Next to “The Lone Sailor” stands his “sea bag.” Perhaps this contained all his wartime belongings. Clearly these symbols tell us this is a service of sacrifice, and power and determination. Though some historic artifacts are here, the Washington Navy Yard with its museums and display ship, the destroyer Barry, tell us even more of this storied service and its men and women.

The United States Marine Corps War Memorial fittingly honors the Marines of Iwo Jima and everywhere else that Marines have so honorably served and fought. Many came home wounded, or died. One can almost hear the words of the Marines’ Hymn: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”

But those of us with more recent memories are also reminded of the sacrifices in Korea, at Khe Sanh, Beirut, the liberation of Kuwait City, the great charge into Baghdad and other engagements elsewhere. Marines are the expeditionary service: the men who carry what they need ashore to attack a fortified, faraway enemy.

The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial is a statue of epic proportions depicting the expeditionary nature of the men and their arms. The men in this statue are solid metal themselves: strong and working, straining and pushing together as a team to raise the flag of their country over the soil they conquered at such a terrible price. The monument brings many minds back to the famous photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal, which graced the covers of hundreds of newspapers and magazines after the Marines captured Iwo Jima. Joe has now passed from this Earth, but his photograph and his Marines live forever in the bronze replica honoring Joe and all Marines of all time.

And where is the U.S. Army Memorial? In a way, the entire city of Washington D.C. is a memorial to the United States Army. George Washington, one of the first great Army leaders and generals was also a surveyor and engineer. He helped select the site of the new nation’s capital, even while serving as the “Father of His Country.”

Within the city one can find reminders in almost every neighborhood of the strength, determination and overwhelming force of the United States Army through American history. There is the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood — named after Robert Gould Shaw, the white commander of a black Civil War regiment, portrayed in the 1989 movie ‘Glory.’ Gen. U.S. Grant, mounted on his charger, stands at the west side of Capitol Hill near the U.S. Botanic Gardens.

The “new” World War II Memorial strikingly commemorates both the 16 million who served and came home and the more than 400,000 who died on the battlefields of Europe and Asia. This granite-and-bronze monument encompasses 7.4 acres, and though it honors all services in all theaters, the immense scope of this monument clearly brings to mind the U.S. Army. At the Korean War Memorial, one sees Army soldiers on patrol, slogging though the countryside of a far-off Asian conflict. And then we have the Vietnam Wall, or officially the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by renowned artist Maya Lin. Wide, deep and true like the Army and the nation. Here every name of every fallen American man and woman from that conflict can be seen.

The Army is the force of land, and the Washington monuments so deeply imbedded in the soil of our homeland remind us of the great importance of our Army to our land and the land of others around the globe.

Our monuments and memorials tell us who we are and remind us of our culture: the attributes of our greatness and our place in history.

The U.S. Air Force Memorial takes its place proudly and rightly atop a hill — overlooking and protecting the entire city with air power; just as the skies cover our land. We in Washington now have a fitting, daily reminder that the U.S. Air Force protects us from the skies, from sea to shining sea and beyond.

John E. Carey is a retired military officer and former president of International Defense Consultants Inc.


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