Aim High: History and Significance of Air Force Day

On a chilly, windswept dune in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville Wright experienced the longest controlled, powered flight yet known to humankind. The date was December 17, 1903.

The initial flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 10 feet per second. The day culminated with a flight of 59 seconds, which traveled across 852 feet of sand.

wright brothers memorial

The two brothers could not have known the full impact of their work at that point. Only a few short years later, on August 2, 1909, the first aircraft, a Wright Model A, was purchased by the United States Army Signal Corps.

Times were changing. At almost the same moment as the first plane was bought, Fort Meyer, Virginia, held a ceremony whereby, as the proud 46-star American flag undulated in the breeze above the ramparts, one of the first horseless carriages, the Ford Model A, was carried into the fort aboard a horse-drawn wagon.

Within a few short years, horse-drawn wagons were a thing of the past, and planes were a permanent fixture for the military.

President Harry S. Truman

A new department of the military had begun, although it underwent several name changes over the course of time. The monikers of the U.S. Air Force include, under the auspices of the U.S. Army, the Aeronautical Section, the Signal Corps, the Aviation Section, the Army Air Service and the Army Air Corps. The title of United States Air Force was settled upon on September 18, 1947.

flat graphic of american flag

Six weeks prior, President Harry S. Truman had designated a United States Air Force Day. August 1, 1947, was chosen as the first official Air Force Day. The day was established to recognize “the personnel of the victorious Army Air Force and all those who have developed and maintained our nation’s air strength.”

The choice of date, August first, coincided with the 40th anniversary of the 1907 establishment of the Aeronautical Division, which rested under the command of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army. Under a flag of 48 stars, Truman made the statement that, “The great strategic fact of our generation is that the U.S. now possesses live frontiers—the frontiers of the air and that the oceans are no longer sure ramparts against attack.”

air force day vector

In an insightful observation, the president reminded the U.S. citizens that the air power of our nation was, at that time as much as it is today, essential to the preservation of our liberty. The development of air transport was, and is, vital to the commerce of a peaceful world.

President George W. Bush

As with every invention brought into use, science can be misused by warped minds. Orville and Wilbur Wright are fortunate not to have seen the devastation of September 11, 2001.

Born in 1946, the summer before the United States Air Force had been established, President George W. Bush similarly spoke to the spirit of the American people after this devastating attack just as Truman had after we had survived and won World War II. “We will not waiver; we will not tire; we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”

Americans’ sense of patriotism and unity was strengthened, and the nation determined to work together to remove the thorn of evil and pain from our side. American flags hung with a flourish, now with 50 stars against the blue background. Banners hung from porches; candles flickered in memoriam.

General T. Michael Moseley

General T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force Chief of Staff, wrote in a letter that one of his goals was to “reinvigorate the warrior ethos” in each airman in the U.S. Air Force. In 2007, General Moseley introduced the “Airman’s Creed,” the words for which were inspired by the speech of President Bush.

This set of guiding principles is intended to set the tone of life for those involved in the U.S. Air Force. All the elite who have accepted the oath to serve their country through the Air Force are defined by the fundamental truths expressed in the Creed.

the airman's creed graphic

What Citizens Should Do

As our country nears the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Air Force Day, we consider how we might honor the airmen who are in the Air Force now, as well as those who no longer serve.

  • Fly a flag. Choose a flag made in the United States, with commercial-grade outdoor-tough material. If you opt to fly both an American flag as well as a United States Air Force flag, hang the Air Force flag slightly below the U.S. flag. If they are on separate flag poles, the Air Force flag should be to the left, as an observer looks at the flags. There is a protocol to flying the colors, and the information is readily available on the internet.
  • Wear patriotic gear. Red, white and blue clothing with a U.S. Air Force ball cap will promote comments and questions from friends and strangers. It will also allow you the opportunity to be a spokesman to the younger generation.
  • Send a care package to servicemen and women within your circle of acquaintances. If you don’t know anyone involved in the U.S. military, there are opportunities through multiple organizations on the internet to send care packages to service members.

Most importantly, thank a vet. Don’t overlook the opportunity to speak with someone who might be wearing a Navy cap, Army t-shirt or Air Force merchandise.

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