By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (Dec. 18, 2003) -- Gray skys, chilly air and pouring rain did not dampen the sprit of an enthusiastic crowd here Dec. 17 as they awaited the arrival of the event’s most anticipated guest speaker.
President George W. Bush was scheduled to address the crowd at the Wright Brothers National Memorial on Dec. 17, the last day of the yearlong centennial of flight celebration.
Around 9:20 a.m., the thunderous roar of five Marine Corps helicopters cut through the sounds of patriotic music, crowd noise and the reverberation of public-service announcements. Heads turned toward the aircraft above the tree line just west of the stage. Despite miserable weather and rumors he would not show, the president had arrived.
Following an introduction by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, the president took the stage.
“For as long as there is human flight, we will honor the achievement on a cold morning on the outer banks of North Carolina, by two young brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright,” Bush said.
The achievements of the two brothers came after considerable hard work and the demonstration of some qualities that Americans today still posses and can still be proud of, Bush said.
“We take special pride in their qualities of discipline, persistence, optimism and imagination,” Bush said of the brothers. “Those traits still define our nation. We still rely on men and women who overcome the odds and take the big chance, with no advantage but their own ingenuity and the opportunity of a free country.”
Those traits have paid off in dividends for the United States over the last century, Bush said. They made the country the first in powered flight and kept it at the head of the pack in all areas of aviation.
“These past hundred years have had supersonic flight (and) frequent space travel,” Bush said. “(Now) the Voyager One spacecraft is moving at 39,000 miles per hour toward the outer edge of our solar system. By our skill and daring, America has excelled in every area of aviation and space travel. Our national commitment remains firm: We will continue to lead the world in flight.”
While Bush did say the United States was committed to a future of continued excellence in air and space technology, he told the crowd the day was for remembering the past.
“This day is one for recalling an heroic event in the history of our nation and in the story of mankind,” Bush said. “Here at the Wright Brothers National (Memorial), we remember one small machine, and we honor the giants who flew it.”