President, Military Leaders Dedicate Air Force Memorial

By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2006 - President Bush accepted the Air Force Memorial here today in a dedication ceremony attended by military leaders of the past and present, political and business representatives and thousands of ordinary citizens and airmen.

"Soldiers can walk the grounds where they fought for freedom," Bush said, "and Marines can wander down the beaches they stormed, but airmen can never visit the spacious skies they raced across in the defense of our freedom. But now, they can come here."

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 to view the dedication ceremony, which took place at the base of the memorial.

The crowd included former independent presidential candidate Ross Perot and his son, Ross Perot Jr., who is chairman of the Air Force Memorial foundation, and Defense Secretary Donald H. 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 served 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.

Air Force Chief of Staff 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 Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, an Air Force pararescueman, sent 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,'" Moseley read. "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, the Air Force's aerial demonstration team, who buzzed the crowd before doing the bomb-burst formation that inspired the design of the three-spires of the memorial.

"We commemorate today the courage of the men and women who were the Air Force blue," Bush noted. "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."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein is assigned to Air Force Print News.)
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