U.S. Air Force members, veterans and lawmakers gathered Saturday in a Washington suburb for the dedication of the United States Air Force Memorial. The memorial honors the men and women of the Air Force, including the 54,000 killed in action.
The crowd saw historic and modern air craft, as well as the Air Force's famous Thunderbirds fly overhead.
Former Air Force captain and well known American journalist Bob Scheiffer led the ceremony. He said the memorial represents the Air Force and all its predecessor organizations. "With this memorial today, America celebrates and honors every airman who helped write that story from the air and ground," he said.
President Bush said the dedication marks the beginning of a year-long celebration of the Air Force's 60th anniversary. "It's fitting that, from this day forward, the men and women of the Air Force will have this memorial, a place here on the ground that recognizes their achievements and sacrifices in the skies above," he said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also addressed the crowd and reflected on the history of aviation in the United States. "It is not a coincidence that the world's first airplane took to the skies over America, for no country better embodies the spirit of aviation," he said.
The memorial is set near Arlington National Cemetery and close to the spot where Orville Wright flew the world's first military airplane in 1909.
The new memorial features three stainless steel spires that soar skywards, representing a precision flying maneuver known as a bomb burst. The highest spire reaches 83 meters and is visible from nearby Washington.
The memorial cost more than $30 million to construct and was 15 years in the making. More than 140,000 people contributed funds for its construction.
Until now, the Air Force had been the only branch of the U.S. military that did not have a memorial in the Washington area.