Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The U.S. Air Force Memorial–Can it be Made Interesting Through Photography?

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Among my friends, including many who are active duty or retired Air Force Officers, I rarely hear compliments for the U.S. Air Force Memorial located in Arlington Virginia overlooking the Pentagon.  On the contrary, I hear statements such as “too big,” “inappropriate location,” “inconsistent with other memorials,” and of course, “what a piece of post modernist crap.”

Personally, I am indifferent.  However, the one comment that draws my attention in small part is that of consistency with other military branch memorials.  Most people are familiar with the Iwo Jima Memorial, also known as the U. S. Marine Corps War Memorial.  This memorial honors the Marines who have died defending the United States since 1775. The Iwo Jima Memorial is located near Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.

Maybe less familiar is the Navy Memorial located in Washington on Pennsylvanian Avenue NW between 7th and 9th streets.  According to the Navy Memorial website, “The United States Navy Memorial is home to the Memorial Plaza, which features Stanley Bleifeld's famous statue, The Lone Sailor. The Lone Sailor, a tribute to all personnel of the sea services, overlooks the Granite Sea, an exact replication of the world's oceans. Surrounding the Granite Sea are two fountain pools, honoring the personnel of the American Navy and the other navies of the world. The southern hemisphere of the Granite Sea is surrounded by 26 bronze bas-reliefs commemorating events, personnel, and communities of the various sea services.”

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The Army is more complicated.  Apparently if the Army wanted you to know where the Army Memorial stands, they would have put it in one of their manuals.  The fact of the matter is that there is no single memorial celebrating the Army as a whole.  There are not one but two Army memorials near the White House. One depicts a winged figure of Victory and was dedicated in 1924 at 17th Street and State Place NW. The other is a gilded flaming sword erected on the Ellipse in 1936.

These monuments memorialize the exploits and soldiers of specific Army divisions: Victory honors the 1st Division, the sword the 2nd. Neither celebrates the Army as a whole, nor do any of the scores of other monuments at battlefields and Army posts across the country, which honor individual units or divisions.

Finally, we come to my proud service, The U.S. Coast Guard.  Similar to the Army, the U.S. Coast Guard does not have a single memorial celebrating the U.S. Coast Guard as a whole in the Washington DC area.  Rather, the U.S. Coast Guard is memorialized by smaller monuments, plazas, plaques and the like dispersed around the country and the world.  Included among these is a 36 x 32 relief at the Navy Memorial…thanks for the nod.  Like the Army, many of these memorials remember specific acts of heroism, historic events, or tragedies associated with a specific ship, aircraft, unit, or person.

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Contrasting each of the service monuments to the U.S. Air Force memorial, those who taking the position of inconsistency may have a point.  I will leave the judgment to you.  For now, lets return to the starting point of this discussion.  If you are one of those in the camp who believe the U.S. Air Force memorial is a “post modern piece of crap,” I have included a series of photos here that will hopefully moderate your assessment.  Once again, I have to leave that to your judgment.  Stay tuned, I have a couple more to share later this week.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


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