I watched it being built.
I passed it almost every day, looming higher and higher beside Interstate 395.
I was appalled at the severity of the three talons that seemed to scratch the sky.
I thought it was an intrusion on the Virginia and Washington, DC skyline and understood why others did not want it near the Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima)
It was the St. Louis Arch disassembled.
I drove to the site and stood in the midst of it.
It seemed so sterile.
I looked up and saw the three protrusions, the sculpture of four colorguards, and the fighter jets etched into the glass wall.
I read the quotes and words on the walls.
I contemplated the meaning of all of this.
I purposely did not read about the new Air Force Memorial because I like to get the ‘feel’ of things on my own. My approach to memorials is akin to my approach to any great work of art or literature; I explore my feelings first, then do the research. After the dedication on October 13th, 2006, I drove to the memorial.
The ‘talons’ were the vapor trails of three jets.
The color guard is to honor all who served and make it photo-friendly for visitors.
The etched glass represented the Missing Man Formation.
I was standing on a runway.
On both ends were etched walls containing quotes from officers and pioneers of aviation, core values of leadership, and the names of those who had earned the Medal of Honor.
The memorial sits on a promontory, in the shadow of the Navy Annex/Headquarters Marine Corps and overlooking Washington, DC, Arlington National Cemetery, and the side of the Pentagon that was hit on September 11th.
There is some irony in the fact that this memorial also is within a stone's throw of Fort Meyer, where the Wright Brothers first tested warplanes. It was there on September 17, 1908, with Orville Wright as the pilot, Lt. Thomas Selfridge (a passenger) became the first death in a powered aircraft accident.
There is so much to talk about here.
Of course, I had to figure out a way to introduce and interpret the memorial, give a brief history of the United States Air Force, the importance of air power, feats, battles, and leadership, to all my seventh and eighth graders. I wasn’t quite sure how to begin..
When I brought my first group to visit the memorial, I was inspired, I simply asked them, “How did you get to the East Coast?”
“We flew.”The rest came naturally.
For details of the memorial click here.
For two reviews from the Washington Post, click here and here.