ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) — The U.S. Naval Academy paid tribute to the 25 Blue Angels pilots and enlisted crew members who have died in team flight operations in the Blue Angels’ 60-year history in a ceremony May 22.
Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt unveiled a memorial plaque alongside a display F/A-18 Hornet, painted in the Blue Angels’ unmistakable blue and gold color scheme, at Navy/Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The aircraft’s canopy rails display the names of Cmdr. Stephen Foley, the Blue Angels’ current commanding officer, and Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron’s first commanding officer, retired Capt. Roy M. Voris.
Voris passed away in August 2005. His son-in-law, Hank Nothhaft, a 1966 Naval Academy graduate, attended the ceremony on Voris’ behalf.
“The timing is nearly perfect – 60 years ago, almost to the day, was the first flight demonstration. This is a fitting place for a memorial, reminding midshipmen of those who have fallen before them,” said Nothhaft.
In 1946, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Chester W. Nimitz ordered the creation of a flight exhibition formation to demonstrate naval air power and generate public support for the armed forces. Nimitz tasked Rear Adm. Ralph Davison with selecting the flight leader for what would become the Blue Angels. Voris, a World War II fighter ace with eight confirmed enemy kills off USS Enterprise (CV 6) and USS Hornet (CV 8), was tapped to assemble and train an exhibition squadron.
The Blue Angels’ first demonstration took place May 10, 1946.
Since then, the military’s premier flight demonstration squadron has had 213 pilots. Out of those 213, 26 have graduated from the Naval Academy. The Blue Angels have performed at Naval Academy graduations for more than 30 years.
Members of the current Blue Angels team were on hand for the memorial dedication.
“Like many of the missions of our naval service, flying jet aircraft in demonstrations is dangerous business,” said Foley. “Yet, as dangerous as our profession is, it is not nearly as dangerous as not doing what we do. The risk we take pales in comparison to the enormous pride and privilege that we feel in being part of such a noble endeavor, or participating in something so much larger than ourselves.”
The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla., donated the F/A-18 Hornet to the Naval Academy in April 2005. The aircraft is on display in dedication to all Blue Angels aviators who have sacrificed their lives.
“It is fitting that today on these hallowed grounds here at Annapolis, in which our naval heritage is rooted, that we remember the sacrifice of these 25 Blue Angels,” Foley said.
The Blue Angels’ mission is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting efforts and to represent the naval service to the United States, its elected leadership and foreign nations. The Blue Angels serve as positive role models and goodwill ambassadors for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
“The purpose of the Blue Angels is to stir the patriotism locked away in the hearts of all Americans,” said Foley, “to encourage in the young men and women of this country the belief that they can attain anything they may dream of and that through training, discipline, and hard work, they may glean the skills to realize their aspirations.”
The Blue Angels have performed for more than 367 million spectators since their inception and have nearly 70 air shows scheduled for the 2006 flight season.
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By Naomi Sullivan, U.S. Naval Academy Public Affairs