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Vets Purchased Freedom for America, Myers Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Va., Dec. 9, 2003 – Throughout America's history, veterans "purchased the freedom we enjoy today," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said here today.

Myers spoke to more than 4,000 veterans at the "Salute to Military Aviation Veterans" at the Smithsonian Institution's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The salute was part of the opening ceremonies for the $311 million center, a part of the National Air and Space Museum. The center opens to the public on Dec. 15, just before the centennial of the Wright brothers' flight on Dec. 17.

Before Myers took the rostrum, the Air Force "Airmen of Note" musical group played a selection of big band-era songs while dressed in World War II Army Air Forces uniforms. When the leader of the group asked how many in the audience recognized the uniform, about half of the hands went up.

It was a great celebration for the World War II vets. Many of them dug out their A2 leather flight jackets and put them on once again. Many rolled into the event in wheelchairs pushed by their children or grandchildren.

The Airmen of Note trace their lineage to Glenn Miller's band. Miller was one of the foremost big-band leaders of the 1930s and 1940s and led the Army Air Forces Band in England during the war. When the group struck up Glenn Miller's version of "American Patrol," the vets cheered. One World War II vet leaned over to his grandson and said, "We lost Glenn Miller over the English Channel."

These veterans understand the meaning of sacrificing for freedom. "Without (the veterans') sacrifices, the world would be a much different place today -- a much poorer place," Myers said during his remarks. "For a century America's aviation veterans have bravely explored and expanded the limits of air power."

Myers said that all members of the armed forces today continue that legacy. The chairman said that the longest flight the Wright Brothers took on Dec. 17, 1903 -- an 852- foot, 59-second hop -- would easily fit inside the Udvar- Hazy Center. "That short flight launched a whole new era," Myers said. "And soon after brave military pioneers with bold visions of what aviation could do to protect America made their mark on history. They made American airpower the most innovative and respected in the world today."

Myers traced the history of military aviation starting in 1908 with Army 1st Lt. Thomas Selfridge becoming the first military pilot. The lieutenant became the first fatality, too, when the Wright Flyer crashed at Fort Myer, Va.

Two years later, Navy Lt. Eugene Ely became the first man to pilot a plane off a ship, beginning carrier aviation.

Myers spoke of the airmen who took to the skies in borrowed French Nieuports and SPADs during World War I, and American air aces whose names still resound today Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Lt. Frank Luke. He talked of Army Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell and his insistence that airpower could defend America's coasts. He spoke of the countless innovations made by military aviators in the 1920s and 1930.

He spoke of the coming of age of strategic bombing during World War II and the thousand plane raids on Germany and Japan. He spoke of the coming of age of carrier aviation in the war against Japan. And he spoke of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay -- now on display at the center -- and its historic role in dropping the first atomic bomb.

Myers said the Cold War continued American innovation. He spoke of the Berlin airlift -- a battle against the Soviets won solely by airpower -- and of American pilots facing the enemy in MiG Alley over Korea.

He spoke of the development of the helicopter and of X- planes breaking the sound barrier and speed records. He spoke of the strategic triad of bombers, ICBMs and submarine-launched missiles that kept the peace during the long confrontation with the Soviet Union.

In America's first post-Cold War confrontation, American airpower helped liberate Kuwait. "And of course, since 9- 11, American aviators have helped secure our skies and turn the tide against organized terrorists across the globe," Myers said. "In Operation Enduring Freedom, American Special Forces embedded with 12th century-style indigenous cavalry (directed) 20th century airplanes where to drop 21st century satellite bombs."

"Today the U.S. military's tradition of innovation and adventure, guts and vision, endures," Myers said. "Soon a new generation of aviation veterans will fly remotely piloted vehicles, hypersonic craft with scramjet engines and aircraft or spacecraft things we can't even imagine now."

This is the progress military aviation has made, the general said. He pointed to the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter on display in the museum and told the veterans that the JSF is an example of the type of craft the next generation will fly. "We've come from the Wright Flyer to this airplane before us," Myers said. "From canvas and hope, to stealth and a little magic. And it's all because brave American military aviators, Americans who risked their life and limb, slipped the surly bonds of Earth risking all to keep America free."

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