- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

The only branch of the U.S. military that had been lacking a memorial in the D.C. area now has one to call its own.

President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other dignitaries yesterday presided over the dedication of the U.S. Air Force Memorial — a towering set of stainless-steel spires that pierce the skyline from a perch overlooking the Pentagon.

“Under these magnificent spires, we pay tribute to the men and women of the Air Force who stand ready to give all for their country,” Mr. Bush told an audience of 1,400, including many blue-clad Air Force personnel.

“And looking from this promontory to a place once filled with smoke and flames, we remember why we need them,” said Mr. Bush, referring to the nearby Pentagon, which was hit by a hijacked airplane during the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The $30 million memorial sits on a prominent hilltop east of the Navy Annex and next to Arlington National Cemetery.

Initial plans called for a site near the Iwo Jima Memorial, which sparked a squabble between the Air Force and the Marines. The dispute ended when Congress, in the 2002 Defense Authorization bill, authorized the memorial to be built at its current site.

Designed by renowned architect James Ingo Freed, who died Dec. 15 at age 75, the memorial consists of three spires — the tallest of which reaches 270 feet into the air — that soar skyward to evoke the bomb-burst formation of the Air Force Thunderbirds precision-flying team.

An Air Force star is embedded in granite directly beneath the spires. The area surrounding the memorial includes two granite inscription walls, a bronze honor guard statue and a glass contemplation wall to honor fallen airmen.

“This memorial has been a labor of love,” said H. Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the Air Force Memorial Foundation. “This memorial says to everybody who visits, … ‘This is the spirit that helped build our Air Force.’ ”

The ceremony also served as a lesson on the Air Force, complete with flights by planes that served throughout its history.

First came a Stearman PT-17 biplane, with a formation featuring an F-22A Raptor ending the procession.

Officials also recounted the names of heroic airmen since the inception of the Air Force, which began in 1907 as a division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and achieved its status as a separate military branch in 1947.

From the heroic exploits of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s raiders in World War II to the missions of pilots in Operation Enduring Freedom, the efforts of airmen past, present and future were lauded.

“The Air Force Memorial is thus a magnificent tribute to each of the 54,000 men and women who preceded us into the heavens on wings of valor,” said Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force’s chief of staff.

The event also included a gravity-defying demonstration by the Thunderbirds, who soared above the memorial in a bomb-burst formation and left behind only tails of smoke.

“To all who have climbed sunward and chased the shouting wind, America stops to say: ‘Your service and sacrifice will be remembered forever and honored in this place by the citizens of a free and grateful nation,’ ” Mr. Bush said.

After the ceremony, event organizers said an estimated 30,000 people were expected to attend an open house in the Pentagon’s south parking lot, which included a concert by country singer Lee Ann Womack.

The Air Force Memorial will open to the public on Tuesday.

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