President, military leaders dedicate Air Force Memorial

Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein
Air Force Print News

On behalf of a grateful nation, the President of the United States accepted the Air Force Memorial in a dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C. attended by military leaders of the past and present, political and business representatives and thousands of ordinary citizens and Airmen alike.

 “A Soldier can walk the battlefields where he once fought,” said President George W. Bush. “A Marine can walk the beaches he once stormed, but an Airman can never visit the patch of sky he raced across to defend freedom. And so it is fitting that from this day forward, the men and women of the Air Force will have this memorial.”

The ceremony was the highlight of a daylong open house event that attracted thousands of people from around the country to the south parking lot of the Pentagon. Huge screens were put up to allow the visitors in the parking lot to view the dedication ceremony, which took place at the base of the memorial.
That crowd included H. Ross Perot and his son, H. Ross Perot Jr., who is chairman of the Air Force Memorial foundation, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Also in attendance were former chiefs of staff of the Air Force, secretaries of the Air Force, chief master sergeants of the Air Force, Air Force Medal of Honor recipients and their families.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Rodney McKinley spoke at the event, saying he was deeply honored to be a part of it. He reflected on the Airmen who serve today, and their connection to the dedicated Airmen who served in the past.

 “We have the most powerful air, space and cyberspace force in the world,” he said. “This is a long overdue tribute to all those who are a part of this ongoing cycle of dedicated and talented Americans who serve in the Air Force.”
The Air Force Band performed several pieces while a video was shown with clips from pilots climbing into World War II bombers to modern-day Airmen working in the sands of Iraq.

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. T. Michael Moseley spoke of several Airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. He read an excerpt from a letter sent by Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, an Air Force para-jumper with the Special Forces to his wife, Theresa, before he was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2002.

 “As if aware of his impending death, he wrote, ‘I’ll die a happy man doing the job I love’,” read General Moseley. “Those are the words of a true PJ, and it speaks volumes of his commitment and dedication. We honor him with this memorial, as well as the countless others who are like him.”

Several aircraft, ranging from World War I bi-planes to today’s stealth bombers and fighters, flew over the crowd and memorial in chronological order, providing visual evidence of the evolution of military flight.

The ceremony ended with a demonstration from the Thunderbirds, who buzzed the crowd before doing the bomb-burst formation, which inspired the design of the three-spires of the memorial.

 “We commemorate today the courage of the men and women who wear the Air Force blue,” said President Bush. “We remember those who gave their lives for their fellow Americans. We mourn their loss, we pray for their families and we consecrate their legacy here today.”