Air Force Academy Is Dedicated

Thousands attended the dedication ceremony for the U.S. Air Force military academy in Colorado, designed to train future Air Force officers. The ceremony included the swearing in of the academy’s first class of 306 cadets. By the early twenty-first century, nearly 38,000 men and women had graduated from the academy.

Summary of Event

The U.S. Air Force, Air Force, U.S. formerly the Army Air Corps (1926-1941) and the Army Air Forces (1941-1947), became a separate, equal service branch (along with the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps) on September 18, 1947. Two years later, the Service Academy Board, cochaired by then-General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, recommended the establishment of an Air Force academy. Carl Vinson, the Georgia Democrat who headed the House Armed Services Committee, marshaled congressional support, as did his Republican successor, Dewey Short Short, Dewey of Missouri. Eisenhower, as U.S. president, signed a bill requesting the academy’s establishment into law on April 1, 1954. An Air Force Academy site-selection committee settled on three possible sites from a list of close to six hundred, but—largely because of vociferous citizen opposition—the two sites at Alton, Illinois, and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, were also eliminated from the list. The academy was therefore to be located at Colorado Springs, Colorado. [kw]Air Force Academy Is Dedicated (July 11, 1955)
[kw]Academy Is Dedicated, Air Force (July 11, 1955)
Air Force Academy, U.S.
Military training academies
Air Force Academy, U.S.
Military training academies
[g]North America;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
[g]United States;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
[c]Military history;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
[c]Architecture;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
[c]Organizations and institutions;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
[c]Education;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
[c]Government and politics;July 11, 1955: Air Force Academy Is Dedicated[04890]
Eisenhower, Dwight D.
Vinson, Carl
Talbott, Harold Elstner
Harmon, Hubert Reilly

A July 27 order established the Air Force Academy at Lowry Air Force Base in east Denver, where it would operate during the design and construction of the permanent campus in Colorado Springs. The first superintendent of the academy, Lieutenant General Hubert Reilly Harmon, immediately began work on the massive project, rehabilitating fifty buildings, assembling a faculty, organizing a staff, developing a curriculum, devising a process for selecting student-cadets, and choosing the members of the first class. In January, 1955, Colonel Max B. Boyd Boyd, Max B. , the chief of the Air Force Public Information Division, urged General Harmon to make the dedication a vehicle for favorable publicity both for the Air Force and for the academy. Harmon appointed Colonel William B. Taylor Taylor, William B. , his assistant chief of staff, to serve as project officer for the dedication.

President Eisenhower, still recuperating from a recent heart attack, could not travel to locations at high altitude and thus was unable take part in the academy’s dedication ceremonies. Because Congress was in session, invitations were issued only to congressmembers from Colorado and nearby states. Also, a large number of Air Force officers wanted to attend as well. However, because of concerns over command readiness, General Nathan F. Twining Twining, Nathan F. , Air Force chief of staff, limited attendance to a relatively small number of high-ranking individuals and retirees. Contingents of cadets from West Point (the U.S. Army academy) and Annapolis (the U.S. naval academy) attended, in addition to representatives of some foreign air force academies. Local civic leaders who had been instrumental in obtaining the academy for Colorado Springs were invited, as were a large number of Colorado officials, educators, and business leaders. The families of the new cadets were in attendance as well. Nearly two hundred representatives of the news media attended, bringing the total to more than four thousand invited guests for the July 11 ceremony.

Prededication festivities began three days earlier, with a program open to the general public. These events were all held at the academy section of Lowry Air Force Base. During the day, tours of the cadet facilities were offered every half hour, and there were also frequent, short briefings in the Cadet Theater to explain the academy’s mission and the proposed course of study. An architectural exhibit provided a glimpse of the future campus in Colorado Springs. Highlights of the day included a concert by the Air Force Band from Washington, D.C., and an air show by the Thunderbirds, the famous Air Force flying team. The events were repeated for invited guests and for academy personnel during the dedication.

At 6:00 a.m. on Monday, July 11, more than three hundred cadets (the class of 1959) reported for duty carrying their summer dress uniforms. Their day began with a physical examination. After haircuts, shoe shining, and uniform checks, the cadets faced the Air Force training officers, who drilled the cadets in close-order formations for several hours to prepare them for the ceremonies. When the new and more polished cadets marched onto the field where the festivities were to take place, they were given a standing ovation.

The dedication ceremonies were scheduled for 4:00 p.m. Arriving guests were greeted by music from the Air Force Band and a massive array of aircraft, including bombers and jet fighters roaring overhead, presenting an aerial salute. On the field below honor guards from the Army and Navy academies passed in review. The ceremony began with an invocation by Major General Charles I. Carpenter Carpenter, Charles I. , chief of Air Force chaplains. Then General Harmon introduced Harold Elstner Talbott, secretary of the Air Force, who read a congratulatory message from President Eisenhower before proceeding with his dedication address. After Secretary Talbott finished, Colonel Robert M. Stillman Stillman, Robert M. , the commandant of cadets, administered the oath of allegiance to the cadets. This solemn moment was followed by a performance by the Thunderbirds. Harmon then introduced General Twining, who reminded cadets of their duties as future officers. A benediction by Chaplain Carpenter was followed by the national anthem and cadets marching off the field in formation.


The Air Force Academy was the culmination of efforts that began as early as 1918, when air power was acknowledged as an essential element of modern warfare. Though cadets at the Army’s academy at West Point in New York received some flight training in the early twentieth century, it was not until World War II that it became clear how critical it was for a nation to have an effective air force. It took little time for legislators to begin introducing proposals for the establishment of a separate academy for the training of Army Air Corps (soon to be Air Force) officers.

The decision to establish the Air Force Academy proved to be a wise one, as almost 70 percent of the academy’s graduates have gone on to serve in the Air Force. Academy graduates have become leaders both in the military and in civilian life. Graduates include hundreds who have attained the rank of general, hundreds who have attended medical school, close to forty who have been Rhodes scholars, and more than thirty who have become astronauts. Moreover, the emphasis the academy placed on a new curriculum that included technology and the liberal arts convinced the other military academies to transform their own courses of study. Thus, the Air Force Academy can be credited for improving military education. Also of note is the academy’s thoroughly modernist architecture, which was first loathed and criticized by many but also admired for its innovativeness in representing the Air Force as a force of modern technology. In 2004, the academy was designated a National Historic Landmark. Air Force Academy, U.S.
Military training academies

Further Reading

  • Breugmann, Robert, ed. Modernism at Mid-Century: The Architecture of the United States Air Force Academy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. An illustrated analysis of the academy’s design in the context of the culture of the academy.
  • Fagan, George V. The Air Force Academy: An Illustrated History. Boulder, Colo.: Johnson Books, 1988. A study written by a retired brigadier general who was one of the original professors at the academy and the director of the academy library. Illustrations, notes, index.
  • _______. Air Force Academy Heritage: The Early Years. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum, 2006. A comprehensive scholarly history of the academy, based on documents and photographs from the academy library, as well as on oral accounts and interviews. Illustrations, index.
  • Nauman, Robert Allen. On the Wings of Modernism: The United States Air Force Academy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004. Describes the bureaucratic processes leading to the founding of the academy, the design debate, the congressional processes, and the actual construction. Appendixes, notes, bibliography, index.

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