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Springer Journal: 54,000 American Airmen Have Died

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PINEHURST, N.C. — That's right, 54,000 airmen have died! Hundreds of thousands have been wounded or imprisoned, and millions have served with valor in the United States Air Force and its heritage organizations, such as the Army Air Corps.

Shortly after Orville and Wilbur launched that first small flight at Kitty Hawk in December 1903, the skies became another medium of warfare. Arguably, there is no other medium that has witnessed such positive revolutionary changes over the past century. Yet there is one constant, and that is the millions of men and women -- volunteers all -- who have served this nation with honor, dedication and valor. They are the men and women of the United States Air Force today, and those who have served in the air arm since the early 1900s.

On Oct. 14, these men and women will be honored and remembered for eternity at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. I was deeply honored to be asked to serve as the founding president of the Air Force Memorial Foundation in March 1992. I had the "paper when it was blank." The vision -- site, design and privately fund a memorial to the United States Air Force and its predecessor organizations -- was my task. It has been an incredible journey. I served as president until 1998 and then was elected to serve as the foundation vice chairman.

With a certain degree of immodesty, I am elated to report that the Air Force Memorial will be a "must-see site" for every visitor to the nation's capital. The memorial sits on a promontory a few hundred yards west of the Pentagon and adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Several years from now, there will be gravesites for our veterans on the ground immediately west of the memorial.

The first image one will see approaching the memorial will be three spires curving into the sky, not unlike the Air Force Thunderbirds' famous bomb burst maneuver. These spires reach 200, 230 and 270 feet, respectively, from their Arlington hillside site, and they will be seen from miles away. These three spires represent many things, including reflecting the Air Force's core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do.

On the site, which offers one of the best views of Washington, the visitor will be struck by the 8-foot-tall bronze honor guard sculpture, emblematic of all those honor guards witnessed at Air Force ceremonies and military funerals. There are large granite walls with quotations from airmen and other dignitaries, as well as those of lesser known, yet very important, Americans. The world remembers Billy Mitchell, Eddie Rickenbacker, Hap Arnold and Curtis LeMay. Only a few family members and friends would remember Sgt. Carl Goldman, a B-17 gunner who was killed in World War II. But now every visitor to the memorial will also know of him.

Goldman wrote to his parents shortly before a mission. "Do not worry about me, as everybody has to leave this earth one way or another. If, after this terrible war is over, the world emerges a saner place, then I'm glad I gave my efforts with thousands of others for such a cause."

There are also granite walls listing all of this nation's airmen who have received the Medal of Honor and another wall listing all of the wars and campaigns in which airmen have fought on the nation's behalf. A familiar site to most visitors will be a large glass engraving that will depict the "missing-man formation" flown over many funerals and solemn occasions.

The site has been beautifully landscaped with grass, shrubs and trees to complement the solemnity of Arlington National Cemetery. There is ample room to host retirement, enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies, as well as welcoming foreign air chiefs and other dignitaries to our nation's capital. And all the while, the visitor on site will see the Pentagon in the immediate foreground. Our nation's capital city with its many noticeable icons, such as the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Congress, will be clearly visible from this elevated site.

No visit to the Washington, D.C., area will be complete without visiting the Air Force Memorial. The world renowned architect, James Freed, early on was fond of saying that for him to be successful with a design, "every cab driver in D.C. must know where the memorial is located." Although Jim passed away last December, his design will live forever -- and all of the cabbies know already where the Air Force Memorial is located.

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