By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
ARLINGTON, Va. (Oct. 15, 2006) -- With just a day having passed since introducing its new memorial to the world, the Air Force completed one final commemorative act, one likely to set the tone for the Memorial for decades to come.
On the morning of Oct. 15 and in a setting more silent and solemn than the dedication activities of the day prior, Air Force leaders and members of the Air Force Memorial Foundation laid a single wreath atop the star that lies between the three spires of the Air Force Memorial.
The wreath laying is the first official function to occur at the Air Force Memorial.
"The Air Force Memorial honors all who have served the nation in the Air Force and its predecessor organizations," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne. "It is therefore most appropriate that the first official Air Force function on this site be a memorial service to our fallen Airmen."
Over 54,000 Airmen have died in service to the Air Force and the predecessor organization that were combined to create it.
"This memorial, overlooking... Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's alter of freedom, remembers and honors the spirit of those Airmen departed, and reaffirms our commitment to the defense of this great nation," Secretary Wynne said.
During the wreath laying ceremony, four Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft flew the "missing man" formation over the Memorial. The formation involves four aircraft flying with an apparent gap in the formation where there should be a fifth aircraft. During the formation, one aircraft abruptly pulls away from the others. Historically, the formation is used to honor pilots lost in battle.
Until now, the Air Force was the only service of the United States military without a memorial of its own in the nation's capital. The service's new memorial, dedicated Oct.14, 2006, comes at the beginning of a year-long series of commemoratory events leading up to the Air Force's 60th anniversary, Sept. 18, 2007.
The Memorial is meant to honor the millions of men and women who have served in the Air Force since it was created, Sept. 18, 1947. It is also meant to commemorate the contributions of those who served in the many predecessor organizations that were combined to create the Air Force.
Those organizations include the aeronautical division and aviation section of the U.S. Signal Corps; the Secretary of War's division of military aeronautics; the Army Air Service; the U.S. Army Air Corps; and the U.S. Army Air Forces. In all, more than 54,000 individuals have died in combat while serving in the Air Force and the organizations that were combined to create it. The Memorial honors the memory of those individuals, the service of Airmen today and the service of Airmen in the future.
The Air Force Memorial, while not inside the District of Columbia, is within walking distance of both the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. From the site, visitors can see the Pentagon, the Washington Monument and the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building.
The predominate feature of the Air Force Memorial is a set of three stainless steel spires that jut from the ground, the tallest of which reaches 270 feet into the air. The spires are meant to represent the Air Force's three core values as well as the "total force," which include members of the active duty Air Force, the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. Visually, the three spires remind visitors of the smoke trails left by aircraft of the Air Force Thunderbird Demonstration Team when they perform the "bomb burst" maneuver.
The Memorial also includes a bronze statue that features four Air Force Honor Guard members, two granite inscription walls, a parade ground area and a glass wall with engravings illustrating the "missing man" aircraft formation.
The Air Force Memorial was designed by the late architect, James Ingo Freed who also designed the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, the Washington Opera House, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.