8/19/12 Marine Aviation Memorial Tower Dedication

Good morning. It is truly an honor to speak to you today as we dedicate this memorial tower and mark the centennial of U.S. Marine Corps aviation.

I want to thank Major General Walters for taking the time to be here with us today, and for his excellent remarks and kind words about our great city.

To those of you who are joining us from out of town, let me welcome you back to Pensacola. Most of all, I want to thank all the Marines who have gathered with us here today to mark this very special occasion.

The United States Marine Corps and Pensacola have had a truly special connection ever since the first garrison arrived here in 1825. For almost as long as there has been a Marine Corps, there have been Marines in Pensacola.

I'm proud and fortunate to know many of them, including our City Administrator, Bill Reynolds, who has been an invaluable part of my team for the past year.

100 years ago tomorrow, a United States Marine named Alfred Austell Cunningham took off in a Burgess Model H biplane, becoming the first in a long line of proud Marine Corps aviators.

Over those hundred years, Marine Corps aviators have seen action in every corner of the globe. From South America to the Pacific, Vietnam to the Middle East – Marine Aviators have been on the front lines right there with the Marines on the ground.

During that time, thousands of Marines have come through Pensacola for flight training. Many of them have gone on to do great things:

  • Captain Henry T. Elrod served in Pensacola in the 1930s before going to Wake Island in December 1941. After all the American aircraft had been destroyed, he was killed in action defending the beach as a rifleman and became the first U.S. aviator from any service to receive the Medal of Honor during the Second World War.
  • Major General Roy Geiger, Marine Aviator #5, trained here in Pensacola before going on to lead the First Marine Aircraft Wing at Guadalcanal
  • Major Stephen Pless got his wings in Pensacola in 1960 and went on to fly a remarkable 780 combat missions in Vietnam, earning a Medal of Honor after an intrepid helicopter rescue that saved the lives of three soldiers.
  • Marine Aviators like Walter Cunningham and Fred Haise went through flight and helicopter training here in Pensacola before going on to reach the stars with the Apollo program.

There are many others. They may not have received medals of honor, and their names may not be found in the history books, but their contributions and sacrifices are just as important. This memorial is for them.

This tower and its bell, forged here in America, are a perfect and fitting tribute to the thousands of men and women who have served as U.S. Marine Corps aviators, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in support of their fellow Marines on the ground.

Pensacola is extremely proud of our military heritage and our connection with the Marine Corps, and we are deeply honored to be the permanent home for this memorial tower.

On behalf of the citizens of this great city, it is my honor and privilege to accept the Marine Aviation Memorial Tower for the City of Pensacola. Thank you, and God Bless America.