I asked Ruth to name her favorite of the 35 attractions we visited on our just completed trip, and she said without much hesitation the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Springs, CO. This really surprised me because we visited it at the end of the day, had a bit of trouble getting in, and its chapel was closed to visitors. Oh, I liked it too but it was not my favorite. Perhaps that’s because I had been there before.
In retrospect we were very lucky. We drove to the Air Force Academy site on August 4th, and the Barry Goldwater Visitor Center had just reopened 2 days previously after a long COVID closure. Once admitted, we had access to every part of this large campus north of Colorado Springs and could stay until 10 pm, but it was already late in a day that contained many activities including the new Olympic Museum, so we contented ourselves during this visit to a drive about and a stop at this excellent center for a viewing of the film that was about the life of a cadet. Despite advice not to, I then took the 1/3 mile walk to the chapel by myself to look at the sculptured models and real aircraft scattered about. It was the only time I actually saw residents. Because of the Delta Variant and talk of booster shots I would not go there again until I was assured that the campus and at least the visitors’ center was opened for visits.
“The Academy traces its roots to the development of air power during World War I,” was the first thing I read in the displays in the visitor center. This is how the history of the Air Force Academy began. However, the recommendation for a separate service academy originated in 1950, and 4 years later President Eisenhower authorized its establishment. More than 580 sites were proposed but the committee in charge of selection narrowed its choices to 3 locations that surprised me–Colorado Springs, Alton, Illinois, and Lake Geneva, WI. The main reservation about locating this academy in Colorado Springs had to do with the wind and how it might affect flight training. Charles Lindbergh was consulted, and he declared this city fit. In 1955 this vast campus began being built. The first class of graduating cadets occurred in 1959, and Captain Lance P. Sijan, who served in Viet Nam, became its first Medal of Honor winner. He looked like a traditional Air Force hero. See below.
The Chicago company called Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill began designing the huge campus in rolling Rocky Mountain foothills. More than 1,200 houses, a hospital, and 22 miles of highway were planned, A cadet’s first year began with 6 weeks of basic training followed by the official start of freshman year.
The 17-spired cadet chapel quickly became the Air Force Academy’s main symbol. That chapel is currently closed for renovations. It has leaked since it opened and asbestos was subsequently found. The chapel is currently covered, and a grand reopening isn’t expected before November 1, 2023. Many think that it will be longer before its ready for visits again. It’s not unusual for the Air Force Academy to attract 4,000 visitors a day.