Panetta Honors Marine Corps Aviation's Centennial
By Amaani Lyle
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2012 - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke of spirit and history here last night at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of Marine Corps Aviation.
In remarks delivered at the foot of the Iwo Jima Memorial, Panetta lauded the efforts of 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham, the first Marine detailed to aviation as a pilot for the B-1, the Navy's initial purchase from the Wright Brothers.
"From the very beginning, the spirit of courage and determination exemplified by Alfred Cunningham has been the legacy of Marine Aviation," Panetta said. "It is a spirit driven by a mission to project power from ship to shore and support Marines on the ground. It is a spirit that has guided Marine pilots to achieve the unthinkable and dare the impossible with their aircraft."
Since Cunningham's day, Panetta said, the Marine Corps has secured a place in Defense Department chronology, including its pivotal role in the conclusion of World War I, its strafing runs across the Pacific in World War II, its night defenses in Korea and its daring rescues in Vietnam.
Panetta also acknowledged the Corps' current missions in Afghanistan.
"We thank God for the Marine pilots from Camp Leatherneck who support our troops on the ground and deal the enemy a heavy blow," the secretary said. "From one generation to the next, Marine pilots pass down their legendary fighting spirit from one pilot to another, telling them, 'If you are not getting mud on your windshield, you're flying too high!'"
The secretary shared accounts of his MV-22 Osprey rides that brought him to the shores of Camp Pendleton in California, near ground zero in lower Manhattan on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and to the dusty plains of Afghanistan's Helmand province.
"That unique aircraft embodies the agility, flexibility, and innovation that are at the heart of Marine Aviation," he said.
"The Marines need a fifth-generation fighter for the future, and they will have it," he said.
Gen. James F. Amos, the 35th Marine Corps commandant, noted that the Marine Aviation centennial provides a distinct opportunity to both reflect and look forward.
"For nearly 100 years, Marine Aviation has demonstrated the adaptability, agility and unique ethos that come with the title 'Marine,'" Amos said. "Supporting our ground and logistics brothers and sisters, Marine Aviation has forged a lasting legacy of professionalism, innovation and transformation."
Leon E. Panetta
Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos