Closing out ‘This Day in Air Force Academy History’

Cadets from the Class of 2014 march in the Graduation Parade May 27. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

Cadets from the Class of 2014 march in the Graduation Parade May 27, 2014. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Sometimes we get so busy with what we have to do today, we fail to appreciate yesterday.  We know where we are but not how we got there.

Our yearlong celebration of the Air Force Academy's 60th anniversary in 2014 has provided a valuable opportunity to correct this shortcoming.

To commemorate the historic milestone and highlight the legacy of achievement of our predecessors, I researched historical documents and identified dates and events that tell the story of the Academy. At year's end, the "This Day in Air Force Academy History" listing contains more than 1,750 items, and continues to grow. And what a story it tells!

In the six decades since President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the Academy April 1, 1954, so much has happened. The Academy opened its doors in July 1955 at a temporary location on Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. The permanent Colorado Springs site was selected and the Academy facilities were built and expanded. Facility growth continues to this day, with the distinctive Center for Character and Leadership Development tower rising from the Honor Court. The Academy's stellar academic program became the first and only one ever granted accreditation before a single class graduated. We were the first academy to award academic majors, a practice adopted by the other service academies. Graduates fought and died in Southeast Asia and other conflicts. Our athletic teams won championships while they helped the cadet athletes develop character.

Speaking of character, we developed the Core Values - Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do - that were so profound they were adopted service-wide. The Academy led - and continues to lead - the way in terms of gender equality, diversity, religious inclusion and character education.

While the Academy officially began in 1954, that milestone was preceded by decades of work by visionary and persistent military leaders such as Generals Billy Mitchell, Hoyt Vandenberg, Hubert Harmon and Hap Arnold, as well as forward-thinking members of Congress and civic leaders. They faced daunting challenges in turning the idea of an air academy into a reality. In fact, the Academy's pre-history is every bit as long and interesting as its history.

Throughout the year, Academy- and Academy-related media outlets, as well as the Air Force Times and local newspapers, covered all that information and more in "This Day in Air Force Academy History" features. Just considering Academy media, the list was seen by approximately 10,000 web visitors each week at www.usafa.af.mil, thousands of readers every week in the Academy Spirit and by more than 200,000 Academy Facebook friends. This coverage allowed hundreds of thousands to pause and reflect on the people, events, decisions and accomplishments that made the Academy what it is today.

I am particularly grateful to Academy Public Affairs staff, the Athletic Department, KAFA, the U. S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates, the U. S. Air Force Academy Endowment, and other agencies for their assistance in publicizing our storied history. Thanks also to all of the readers who have provided feedback and dates for the list.

I hope this feature created an interest in the Academy's past that will sustain itself.  As our anniversary year ends, the project continues. My original goal, to capture our history, remains, so please continue to submit any historical information you have.
Throughout 2014, our "This Day in Air Force Academy History" project has cast a respectful eye back in time, drawing attention to many of the most significant events in Academy history. As we look forward to the next 60 years, we now have a better idea of how we got to where we are today.