ARLINGTON COUNTY

300 Feet of Air Force Awe

Talmadge Williams, left, president of the Arlington County chapter of the NAACP, and David P. Johnson, managing director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, gaze at the new $30 million Air Force memorial.
Talmadge Williams, left, president of the Arlington County chapter of the NAACP, and David P. Johnson, managing director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, gaze at the new $30 million Air Force memorial. (By Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)

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By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

An unrelenting wind and a drenching rain made it impossible for the few Arlington County officials, residents and journalists who were given a sneak peek at the area's first Air Force memorial yesterday to do the one thing visitors to the $30 million structure are compelled to do: look skyward at three arching spires that reach nearly 300 feet into the air.

"If it wasn't for the rain, you could see the Washington Monument in the distance," said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward F. Grillo Jr., president of the Air Force Memorial Foundation, soggy and doing his best to maintain a sense of humor as he conducted an abbreviated tour.

An estimated 50,000 people are expected next weekend for a formal dedication, beginning Saturday with a mini air show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Pentagon's south parking lot. At 1:30 p.m., the memorial will be dedicated at an invitation-only ceremony.

Chairs and jumbo television monitors will be set up in the south parking lot so the general public can watch the ceremonies, which will include a flyover by heritage airplanes as well as the Air Force's demonstration team, the Thunderbirds. At 4 p.m., shuttles are scheduled to begin bringing people from the Pentagon parking lot to the memorial.

That Sunday, a memorial service and wreath laying are planned for 10:30 a.m. During the hour-long ceremony, officials said, four F-16s will perform the "missing man" formation. Aerial rehearsals will be conducted next week.

The monument, near Interstate 395, was designed by James Ingo Freed to mimic the sight of Air Force jets performing the "bomb burst" formation. It also includes a gracefully engraved glass wall of reflection that salutes those killed in action.

Freed, whose credits include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Ronald Reagan Building, was able to design a monument that accomplishes the difficult task of evoking the flow of air, Grillo said.

"People see this and say: 'I get it. I understand this,' " he said.

Despite the downpour, Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman's enthusiasm was still front-and-center.

"We're all very excited," he said, rain pelting his face. "It's going to be a major part of the landscape."

That's because the centerpiece of the memorial is three stainless steel fingers that together weigh 2,300 tons and jut well into the sky. Construction was tricky, requiring measures to prevent the structures from collapsing from a series of oscillations. Engineers conducted wind-tunnel tests and computer simulations to see just how much stress the structure could take.

Although the nation's other armed forces have memorials in Washington to honor their achievements, this will be the first for the Air Force.

"To most of us, it's long overdue," Grillo said. "We're very proud."

Tickets for next weekend's events are required but are free. They are available athttp://www.airforcememorial.org.


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