United States Air Force Memorial

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The United States Air Force Memorial honors the service of the United States Air Force and its predecessors. The Memorial is located in Arlington, Virginia, near The Pentagon, at the intersection of Columbia Pike and South Joyce Street. It was last project of American architect James Ingo Freed (known for the design of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) with the firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners before his death.


In January 1992, the for the United States Air Force Memorial Foundation.was incorporated to pursue the development of a Memorial that would honor the people in the United States Air Force. In December 1993, President Bill Clinton signed P.L. 103-163 authorizing the Air Force Memorial. In 1994, the National Capital Memorial Commmission approved a site adjacent to Marshall Drive and Va Route 110, down the hill from the Netherlands Carillon, known as Arlington Ridge. Fund raising and detailed designs began. Because the site was near the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial, various Marine groups were briefed on the plans without voicing objections.

On July 30, 1997, Congressman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-NY) introduced bill to prohibit the construction of any monument, memorial or other structure within view of the Iwo Jima Memorial. On September 16, 1997, the Friends of Iwo Jima and Solomon filed for a Temporary Restraining Order against the construction of the Air Force Memorial, which was dismissed on June 15, 1998. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit then dismissed the appeal of that decision on May 7, 1999. Faced with the cost of litigation and the opposition of prominent former Marines in Congress, the Foundation agreed to move the Memorial to its present site on the grounds of Fort Myer just south of Arlington National Cemetery.[1]

On December 28, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Defense Authorization Bill, which included a rider directing the Department of Defense to make available to the Air Force Memorial Foundation up to three acres of the Naval Annex property for use as the location for the Air Force Memorial. Formal groundbreaking of the site was held in September 2004. Construction of the spires began in February 2006 and was completed in seven months. The Memorial was dedicated on October 14, 2006, with approximately 30,000 persons attending. The keynote address was delivered by President Bush, a former F-102 Delta Dagger pilot. The first official ceremony at the Memorial was held the next day when Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne laid a memorial wreath for fallen airmen beneath the spires.[2]

In 2007, the Foundation merged into the Air Force Association.


The Memorial itself is 270 feet high and appears to be soaring. The three stainless steel arcs against the sky evokes the image of "contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as they peel back in a precision 'bomb burst' maneuver." Only three of the four contrails are depicted, as the absent fourth evokes the missing man formation traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs.[3]

The spire structure consists of stainless steel plates with high-strength concrete filling the lower 2/3rds of each spire. The upper third is hollow stainless steel. At the transition between concrete and hollow steel portions, dampers are provided to dissipate wind sway energy and eliminate the risk of aerodynamic instability. Each damper consists of a lead ball weighing about a ton each, allowed to roll inside a steel box.

At the entrance from the west stands four eight-foot tall bronze statutes of the Memorial’s Honor Guard, sculpted by Zenos Frudakis. This is linked by a bluestone path to the Glass Contemplation Wall, a glazed panel with the images of four F-16's flying in a Missing man formation engraved on both sides of the 5-ply panel, located on the north side of the Memorial so that the north inscription wall is visible through it. The panel is the only part of the memorial that depicts aircraft.[4]

The base of the Memorial is framed by two inscription walls located at the north and south ends of the central lawn. The walls are 56 feet in length, 10 feet in height and one foot thick. Both walls are made of polished, highly-reflective monolithic Jet Mist granite and both include a two and a half inch outer inscription panel made from Absolute Black granite. The north wall bears the names of Air Force recipients of the Medal of Honor, and the south wall bears inspirational quotations regarding core values, particularly the Air Force's three core values: "integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all that is done".[5]

Although the Memorial is somewhat overshadowed by the Navy Annex at Fort Myer, that facility is slated for demolition by 2013 with the site to be used for the southward expansion of Arlington National Cemetery.


The Memorial is open 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. April 1 – September 30 and 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. October 1 – March 31. It is a half mile from the Pentagon City Metrorail station. Over 300 events each year are held at the Memorial, including USAF Band’s summertime concerts, honor flight visits, promotion and retirement ceremonies, wreath laying ceremonies, and weddings.[6]


  1. http://www.airforcememorial.org/memorial/chronology.asp Retrieved November 19, 2012
  2. Dudney, Robert (November 2006). "The Magnificent Memorial". Air Force Magazine, Journal of the Air Force Association. 
  3. United States Air Force Memorial description by the architectural firm that designed it, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
  4. http://www.airforcememorial.org/design/index.asp Retrieved November 19, 2012
  5. http://www.airforcememorial.org/memorial/facts.asp#other Retrieved November 19, 2012
  6. Air Force Memorial Foundation. Retrieved on November 19, 2012.

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