WASHINGTON – Spirit,aspiration and glory – these were three of many words used to describe a memorial that will honor past and present heroes of the sky.
Air Force and congressional officials broke ground Wednesday for the Air Force Memorial,marking the beginning of its construction and the end of a long and sometimes controversial process.
“Our goal 13 years ago was fairly straightforward,” said Ross Perot Jr.,Air Force Memorial Foundation chairman. “We wanted to salute the millions of men and women who have served our country in the United States Air Force.”
“By its very design,the Air Force Memorial expresses the fundamental aspirations,spirit and accomplishments of the Air Force as a source of glory,” Perot said.
Perot said the memorial also honors the organizations that came before the Air Force and the technological achievements that have made American air power the most affordable on Earth.
The memorial's architect is James Indigo Freed,who also designed the first proposed Air Force memorial for a site on the north ridge of Arlington National Cemetery. Sponsors abandoned the design when objections to its site forced them to move.
The memorial,which will take two years to construct,will consist of three spires of differing heights that will stretch as high as 270 feet into the air. The foundation has raised $38.5 million of the memorial's estimated $41.7 million cost.
Perot said the three spires capture the subtle grace and boldness of a space launch and the bomb-burst maneuver of the Thunderbirds,the Air Force's aerial acrobatic team.
The three spires also represent the “significant association of the Air Force,” he said. This association includes the branch's three core values,three core competencies,and three kinds of people who make up the Air Force.
“It's impressive,” said Herbert W. Ockerman,who served three years during the Korean War training navigators and came from his home in Cleveland to attend the ceremony.
The Air Force is the only branch of service that doesn't have a memorial in or around the nation's capital.
“It's time,” said Ockerman,an animal sciences professor at Ohio State University.
The ceremony also honored the Air Force's most senior veteran,retired general Bernard Schriever,94,who retired in 1966,with a standing ovation. A World War II bomber pilot,Schriever was recognized as the architect of the Air Force's ballistic missile and military space program,according to his official biography.
The memorial will be visible from the national Mall and the Capitol across the Potomac River. In addition to the three spires,the memorial's 3 acre site will include a bronze honor guard of four figures and a landscaped and glass-enclosed “chamber of contemplation.” It does not include a museum or education center.
When the Air Force Memorial Foundation began planning the memorial,it chose a site 600 feet south of the Marine Corps' Iwo Jima Memorial and northeast of the Netherlands Carillon Memorial.
After opposition from Marine Corps veterans that included a lawsuit,sponsors chose the new site at the old Navy Annex,near Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon,overlooking the city.
For more information on the memorial,visit www.airforcememorial.org