Air Force Marks 10th Anniversary of Once-Disputed Memorial

Visitors walk around the U.S. Air Force Memorial, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Visitors walk around the U.S. Air Force Memorial, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The Air Force marked the 10th anniversary Friday of the once-controversial Air Force Memorial, which features three stainless steel spires that beckon to the wild blue yonder and honor airmen who "climbed sunward and chased the shouting wind."

The United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, stands as a fitting place "where we come to find meaning in this thing we call service" and symbolizes the service's mission to "go wherever evil lurks," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

It is also fitting that the memorial overlooks Arlington National Cemetery and the graves of the fallen, "standing watch -- top cover," Goldfein said.

"Standing watch is what we do," he said. "So, how appropriate that this powerful, moving memorial stands watch over our fallen at Arlington Cemetery."

Goldfein noted the remarks of former President George W. Bush in dedicating the memorial on Oct. 14, 2006, when he pointed out the meaning of the site to Air Force veterans:

"A soldier can walk the battlefields where he once fought; a Marine can walk the beaches he once stormed. But 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 airmen will have this memorial."

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

In his remarks at Friday's ceremony, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Cody made brief reference to the controversy over the choice of the site. He said it was a "hard-fought battle to actually have this memorial here" close by the Marine Corps War Memorial, known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The reference was to former Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon, a New York Republican and Marine veteran, who introduced a bill in 1997 to prohibit the construction of any monument, memorial or other structure "within view" of the Marine Corps War Memorial. Solomon and others also filed suit to protect the site but lost in court.

Formal groundbreaking began in September 2004, and construction of the three spires, which range in height to 270 feet, began in February 2006. The spires, designed by architect James Ingo Freed, are intended to evoke "the contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they peel back in a precision 'bomb burst' maneuver."

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the spires also underline the importance the service attaches to the number three for the three domains in which it operates -- air, space and cyberspace.

Officially, the memorial is intended to honor the service and sacrifices of the men and women of the Air Force -- including the 54,000 who gave their lives in service -- as well as its predecessor organizations.

Those heritage organizations included the Aeronautical Division; the U.S. Signal Corps; the Aviation Section; the U.S. Signal Corps; the Division of Military Aeronautics; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces.

James said those organizations inspired a proud and continuing tradition, from the Lafayette Escadrille -- the American volunteers for the Aeronautique Militaire of France in World War I -- to the "Doolittle Raiders" and Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, to the highly trained pilots now flying combat missions over Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

James, who was presented a red blazer to signify her induction as an honorary member of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., also urged the audience to take note of the London plane trees lining the walkways leading to the memorial.

"These are trees that thrive in harsh conditions," she said, and "these trees truly represent the resilience of our airmen and their families."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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