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 Home > News & Policies > October 2006

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 14, 2006

President Bush Attends United States Air Force Memorial Dedication
The United States Air Force Memorial
Arlington, Virginia

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2:48 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, thank you for your kind words. Secretary Nicholson, General Hayden, General Pace, Secretary Wynne, General Moseley, Chief Master Sergeant McKinley, Ross Perot, Jr., Major General Grillo, members of the Armed Forces, military veterans, and distinguished guests: Laura and I are honored to join you on this historic day.

President George W. Bush gives remarks at the dedication of the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on October 14, 2006. White House photo by Paul MorseWith today's ceremony, the United States Air Force begins a year-long celebration of its 60th birthday. As someone who recently crossed that milestone -- (laughter) -- it's not all that bad. (Laughter.) I can think of no better way to begin the celebrations than by dedicating this magnificent monument. So, General Grillo, here in the company of the brave men and women of the United States Air Force, I proudly accept the Air Force Memorial on behalf of the American people. (Applause.)

A soldier can walk the battlefields where he once fought; a Marine can walk the beaches he once stormed; but an airman can never visit the patch of sky he raced across on a mission to defend freedom. And so 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.

Building this memorial took a lot of talent and creativity and determination. Like the aircraft whose flight it represents, this memorial is a incredible feat of engineering. Like the country whose freedom it represents, this memorial is hopeful and optimistic. By its design, this monument raises our eyes toward the vast and open skies, and focuses our mind on the endless possibilities of human flight.

Having flown an F-102, I know the exhilaration of flight; and as a son of an aviator who was shot down in combat, I am keenly aware of its dangers. I have spent a lot of time with the aviators, and one thing about them that has always struck me, aviators, by their nature, are optimistic people. It takes an optimist to climb into a steel tube, race to the sky at 1,500 miles an hour heading toward danger, and expect to return home safely. Yet this is precisely what the men and women of the Air Force do for our country every day.

America is grateful for your service, and I'm proud to be the Commander-in-Chief of such fine men and women. (Applause.)

Today it's hard to imagine a world without the Air Force protecting us in the skies above. Yet, by the standards of history, air power is still a relatively new phenomenon. Men have been fighting on land and sea for thousands of years, but there are still Americans alive today who were born before man had ever flown. Over the past century, manned flight has gone from the dream of two brothers working in an Ohio bicycle shop to an indispensable tool in our nation's arsenal.

We saw the importance of air power six days ago -- six decades ago, after our nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor. Soon after the attack, General Hap Arnold called Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle into his office and gave him an unprecedented mission -- retaliate against Tokyo. Just over four months later, Doolittle's raiders had shocked the world by striking the enemy capital some 4,000 miles away from Pearl Harbor. To do it, they had to load B-52* bombers on the deck of an aircraft carrier, sail within a few hundred miles of enemy territory, take off and drop their payloads, knowing they had little chance to make it safely to China.

President George W. Bush with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the dedication of the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on October 14, 2006. White House photo by Paul MorseBut the Doolittle raid sent a clear message to America's enemies: If you attack this country and you harm our people, there is no corner of the Earth remote enough to protect you from the reach of the aviators who wear our nation's uniform. (Applause.)

Five years ago, our enemies learned this lesson anew after the attacks of September the 11th, 2001. Within weeks of the attack, pilots at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri boarded B-2 stealth bombers, flew halfway across the world, refueling in mid-air, took out the Taliban and al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, dropped into Diego Garcia for engine running crew changes, and then made the journey home. Jimmy Doolittle would have been proud. (Applause.)

Together with Navy and Marine aircrew, submariners, Special Ops forces from every service, and a vast coalition of nations, the United States Air Force helped deliver justice to a regime nearly 7,000 miles away from the World Trade Center, and helped put the terrorists on the run.

Five years have passed since the opening salvos in the war on terror, and every day in this war we depend on the skill and determination of the men and women of the United States Air Force. In this war, Battlefield Airmen on the ground scout out enemy positions, locate targets for aviators circling above, and use advanced laser guidance systems to steer bombs, allowing us to strike the terrorists and spare innocent civilians.

In this war, Air Force aviators in Nevada step into a camouflage trailer on their base, sit down in front of computer consoles and fly Predator unmanned aerial vehicles half a world away over the skies of Iraq, using them to find and remove terrorist nests in remote corners of the world.

In this world -- in this war, our airmen operate advanced space satellites circling the Earth. They beam down real-time images of terrorist positions to our troops on the ground so they can strike the enemy before the enemy can strike our country. In this war, Air Force C-130 crews deliver supplies to our troops on the front lines; Air Force teams disarm and remove roadside bombs; Air Force maintenance squadrons keep our planes in the air; Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts provide close air support for troops in contact with the enemy. And Air Force search-and-rescue teams evacuate soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines injured in the war on terror.

President George W. Bush observes the Air Force Thunderbirds performing at the dedication of the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on October 14, 2006. White House photo by Paul MorseWhether they are serving on the front lines, or bases overseas, or here in the homefront, the men and women of the United States Air Force bring honor to the uniform, and they are bringing us victory in the war on terror. (Applause.)

The stakes in this war could not be higher. Terrorists and extremists are fighting to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East so they can take control of countries and use them as bases from which to attack America. If we do not defeat these enemies now we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. We are in a war that will set the course for this new century and determine the destiny of millions across the world. Defeating the terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time, and the calling of this generation.

And like generations that came before, we will answer history's call with confidence. We will confront the threats to our way of life; we will fight for our liberty without wavering; and we will prevail. (Applause.)

Victory in this war depends on the one thing that has not changed since the founding of the Air Force six decades ago -- the courage of the men and women who wear the Air Force blue. We see that courage in the men and women of the Air Force who return from battle with wounds they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We see that courage in the airmen who left our shores to defend freedom and did not live to make the journey home. They gave their lives so that their fellow Americans could enjoy a bright horizon of freedom and peace. We mourn every loss. We pray for their families. And here at this memorial, we consecrate their memory for the ages.

This memorial lies in sight of Arlington National Cemetery, where so many of those fallen airmen are buried. This memorial also lies in sight of the Pentagon, where our nation came under attack. It is a fitting location. Under these magnificent spires we pay tribute to the men and women of the Air Force who stand ready to give all for their country. And looking from this promontory to a place once filled with smoke and flames, we remember why we need them.


The Air Force Thunderbirds performing at the dedication of the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on October 14, 2006. White House photo by Paul MorseEvery man and woman who has worn the Air Force uniform is part of a great history. From the Berlin Airlift to the Korea War, to Vietnam, to the Gulf War, to Kosovo and today's war on terror, a long blue line of heroes has defended freedom in the skies above. 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.

May God bless you all. (Applause.)

END 3:00 P.M. EDT

* B-25 bombers