Welcome to the United States Air Force Memorial.
The memorial is one of many in the area which honors the men and women who served the US
military. This one honors the more than 54.000 men and women who have died in combat while
serving the Air Force and its predecessor organizations. The Air Force is one of four
service arms in the US army, together with the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Coastal
Guard. The story behind this memorial began in 1992,
when the newly acknowledged Air Force Memorial Foundation suggested that a memorial in honor
of the Air Force personnel should be built. The plans were authorized by the current president,
Bill Clinton, in 1994 and a site for the memorial was chosen. The chosen site was however not
the site where it stands today. Instead, the memorial was planned northeast of Arlington
Cemetery, close to the Marine Corps Memorial of Iwo Jima.
This was not appreciated by Marine Corps veterans, who thought that the new memorial was too
close and disturbed the view over the Iwo Jima memorial. The conflict grew and resulted
in several bills and appeals against the construction. Faced with the litigation costs and the opposition
from the Marine Corps, the Air Force Memorial Foundation moved the site of the memorial
to its current position, south of the cemetery. The construction of the memorial began in
September 2004 and finished seven months later. The official dedication was held in 2006 under
presence of the current president George W Bush, who himself previously served as an
F-102 pilot, together with around 30.000 people in the audience.
The memorial is dominated by three tall spires, ranging from 61 to 82 meters in height. The
spire structures are made of stainless steel plates with high-strength concrete filling
the lower 2/3rds of each spire while the upper third is hollow stainless steel.
As you can see, the spires have a very modern elegant design. There is also a lot of though
behind why the spires look they way they do. The spires symbolize a flying maneuver, known
as a “bomb-burst”, where the planes fly close to each other upwards and then splits in different
directions. Imagine that there is a plane at the top of the spires with each spire representing
the jet-stream caused by the planes, and I think you’ll get the picture. Only three of
the normal four contrails are depicted, as the absent fourth suggests the “missing man
formation” traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs.
Next to the spires you can see four bronze statues of the Honor Guard, made by the renowned
sculptor, Zenos Frudakis, and behind them a black granite inscription wall. The wall
bears inspirational quotations regarding the Air Force’s three core values; “integrity
first, service before self and excellence in all we do”. The three spires not only represent
the “bomb-burst” maneuver, but also these three core values.
On the opposite side you can see a free-standing glass wall depicting four F-16s flying in
a missing man formation. Behind the glass you will find the second inscription wall
which bears the names of Air Force recipients of the Medal of Honor.
If you walk to the center of the three spires and take a look at the ground, you will see
an Air Force “star” embedded in the granite. The star has long been emblazoned on Air Force
planes and it serves as the rank insignia of Air Force members.
One of the main problems the designers of this memorial had was to make the medium of
the Air Force visible. The Navy has the medium of water, which can always be shown in fountains
and the Army has the medium of land, which also easily can be depicted. The Air Force
however, has the medium of air, which is very difficult to show. When looking at the memorial,
with its jet-stream symbolizing spires, I think we both can agree on that they have
solved this task very well. The US Air Force Memorial with its spectacular design has become
another one of the many loved memorials in the area.
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