I was down in Washington last weekend and made a trip to the Air Force Memorial, which opened back in 2006. From driving around the DC area, I had seen the three stainless steel spirals arcing up over the Crystal City skyline and, initially, was not so impressed. In fact, it seemed a little odd and random the way it's spires stuck in the air without any context or real meaning. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a series of large construction cranes or a radio tower that had never been completed.
An actual visit to the memorial is fortunately a very different experience. Sited on a promontory that provides an expansive view of the entire city of Washington, the memorial's three 200 foot-plus spires seen up close are more impressive and quite dramatic when viewed from the ground looking up. Each one is a different height and they are arrayed in a triangle on a large granite plaza with the Air Force star embedded in glass and marble at the center. I took a number of pictures while there which give a sense of the drama of those structures which resemble the contrails of three F-14's in a cloud burst formation.
The only unfortunate thing about the memorial is also it's position: it overlooks the site where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. Though the Air Force has a long and impressive history going back to World War II, there is no arguing 9/11 was a day of unique failure for the service branch entrusted with defending America's airspace. The planning of the memorial began long before 9/11, back in 1994, so it's more of an unfortunate coincidence than an embarrassing planning blunder.
But still, standing at the edge of the memorial and looking down at the reflective benches of the Pentagon memorial, it's sobering to realize you're standing in the flight path of American 77. In a way, it gives the grandiose and somewhat flashy memorial a totally unintended solemnity. And, in a way, maybe that's for the best....it tempers the glory of the wild blue yonder with the harsh realities of the human costs of war.