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Air Force's long wait ends with $30m monument

ARLINGTON, Va. -- President Bush helped the Air Force make a dream come true yesterday with the dedication of a hilltop monument anchored by soaring silver stalks that evoke the famed Thunderbirds' ``bomb-burst" maneuver.

``A long blue line of heroes has defended freedom in the skies above," Bush said. ``To all who have climbed sunward and chased the shouting wind, America stops to say your service and sacrifice will be remembered forever and honored in this place by the citizens of a free and grateful nation."

The $30 million US Air Force Memorial, set on a promontory next to Arlington National Cemetery and overlooking the nation's capital, was almost 15 years in the making.

Until yesterday, the Air Force was the only military branch without a monument around the capital. Efforts to change that were stymied by lawsuits and congressional action before the current site and design were chosen.

A precision flying demonstration by the Air Force Thunderbirds took place yesterday not far from Fort Myer, where Orville Wright flew the world's first military airplane in 1909.

As the Air Force's history was recounted, a succession of aircraft, from a replica of Wright's historic biplane to an F-117A Nighthawk Stealth fighter, flew overhead.

The memorial's 17,000-ton metal spires soar as high as 270 feet, in graceful arcs that imitate vapors from jets shooting upward from the earth and peeling away from one another. ``This memorial soars. It soars in space and in the imagination," Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said.

The site has two inscribed granite walls and an 8-foot bronze ``honor guard" statue of four figures. A glass wall engraved with the ``missing man" formation -- a signature maneuver to honor those missing and fallen in the military -- provides the only images of aircraft.

``This memorial says to everybody who visits, today and tomorrow, `This is the spirit that helped build the Air Force. This is the sacrifice that helped defend our freedom. This is the courage that helped build our nation.' On behalf of a very grateful country, and a grateful people, it says, `Thank you,' " said H. Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the memorial's board of trustees and a former fighter pilot in the Air Force Reserve.

The memorial was the last major work of James Ingo Freed, an architect who died in December. Among his other projects is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

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