Air Force Memorial: If I could only show Hank

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
During an early December visit to Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va., I stayed in a hotel overnight near the Pentagon in Arlington. From my fourth floor hotel window, I could see the new Air Force Memorial.

The first thought that came to my mind when I saw it glimmering in the night was ... "I wish Hank could see this."

The "Hank" I'm referring to is Henry "Hank" Backman -- from my hometown of Wakefield, Mich. Hank served in the Air Force in the 1950s and was a driving force behind me choosing the Air Force as a career. He's someone I hold up in my life's history with pride. At 270 feet high, the Air Force Memorial is hard to miss from a distance and I know Hank would find it awe inspiring.

That setting in which I saw the memorial wasn't my first time. I first saw it in early April during visit to Arlington National Cemetery for a funeral of a former missing in action Airman from Vietnam.

I can remember walking the cemetery grounds and then, after coming out from behind some trees, "WHAM!" In my line of sight is this towering set of three stainless steel arcs reaching into the sky. I thought then what I thought on this recent trip -- "If I could only show this to Hank."

You see the memorial was built for people like Hank. It's a towering, physical reminder about Airmen who helped shape our Air Force early on, like Hank did, and to honor those who have fallen and those who continue to serve. President George W. Bush said it best at the dedication of the memorial on Oct. 14, 2006, "To all who have climbed sunward and chased the shouting wind, America stops to say: your service and your sacrifice will be remembered forever, and honored in this place by the citizens of a free and grateful nation."
According to the Air Force Memorial Foundation, the memorial's three spires "impart a sense of accomplishment in command of the sky, and evoke the image of the precision 'bomb burst' maneuver" performed by the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team. They are three spires I know Hank would enjoy to see up close.
The three spires, the Foundation says, "also represent the three core values of the Air Force -- integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do -- and the Air Force's total force -- active, Guard and Reserve."

Also of note, embedded in granite beneath the three central spires is the Air Force "star," which has long been emblazoned on Air Force aircraft and serves as the rank insignia of every enlisted member of the Air Force. I wear that star today and Hank once wore it proudly in the 1950s.

Out of all the things I saw around our nation's capital during my recent visit, seeing the memorial is the main thing I remember. I remember it because of who I am today and of the people who have helped build my Air Force into the best in the world - people like Hank.

Hank is in his 80s now and I don't know if he'll ever see it up close, but I want him to know that through my eyes he can say he has. He inspired me to be where I am today and if it wasn't for him and people like him, I may have never seen it either.

Thanks Hank.