My travels recently took me to Washington D.C. and allowed me a brief visit at the spectacular United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

It was erected adjacent to the National Cemetary in celebration of the dedicated Airman of the U.S. Air Force and its heritage organizations: the Army Air Forces, the Army Air Corps and the Army Signal Corp. Once completed, the memorial was dedicated in a breathtaking ceremony on October 14th, 2006.

The focal point of the memorial are the three gleaming, stainless steel spires, designed by James Ingo Freed from the architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Representing the the Air Force’s core values of Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do, the spires are 201, 231 and 270 feet tall, respectively. They cast the image of three planes of a four-ship missing man, executing a high bomb-burst.

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For a brief moment, I was fortunate enough to have the entire memorial to myself. I sat for a bit and reflected on my own service and while I was the only living soul at the memorial, I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the spirits of all those who served before me. Their echoes were all there, all part of that unwavering American tradition of valor, courage and sacrifice that is United States Air Force.

I thought of the dauntless aviators of the Army Signal Corps’ 1st Aero Squadron in their Curtiss JN-3 Jennies–the first Americans to fly in combat when the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1916; the intrepid Consolidated B-24 Liberator crews who braved the inferno over the Axis oil fields Ploesti, Romania during WWII; and the gallant Republic F-105 “Thud” drivers and Wild Weasels who endured unrelenting anti-aircraft fire along the Red River Valley on their way to their targets in Hanoi.

There are several quotes relating to the Air Force and U.S. airpower engraved on the smooth marble walls of the memorial. Most are from Presidents like Reagan and Bush or Generals like Mitchell and Arnold. One quote in particular stood out to me, one that will resonate with anyone who has worn the the Air Force uniform:

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“As I prepare for this…mission, I am a bit homesick… Mother and Dad, you are very close to me, and I long so to talk to you. America has asked much of our generation, I’m glad to give her all I have because she has given me so much.”

—Sergeant Arnold Rahe, US Army Air Forces, WWII, Killed in Action over France, from a letter to his parents

So this Veterans Day, as you reflect upon your own service, or perhaps that of your family or loved ones, be sure to take a moment and remember all of those who came before. The venue matters not, for all of them are significant: Bunker Hill, Antietam, Camrai, Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir, the Mekong Delta, the sky over Baghdad, the Shah-i-Kot Valley, or even other places we cannot speak of. We owe all of our veterans a debt of honor that cannot be repaid. Without them, there would be no us.

Respect and Honor…

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