Active-duty and former military service members have sought to honor the sacrifices of aerial reconnaissance crews for some time. With changes in world politics and national security concerns, it became possible to declassify the existence of the program. This declassification provided the opportunity to recognize publicly the sacrifices made by servicemen performing aerial reconnaissance missions.
National Vigilance Park Aerial View
Dedicated on 2 September 1997, National Vigilance Park and its Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial stands to honor those "silent warriors" who risked, and often lost, their lives performing airborne signals intelligence missions during the Cold War. The backdrop for the park is a semicircle of trees, each representing the various types of aircraft downed during U.S. aerial reconnaissance missions.
The centerpiece of the memorial is a C-130 aircraft, refurbished to resemble the reconnaissance-configured C-130A which was downed by Soviet fighters over Soviet Armenia on 2 September 1958.
In addition to the C-130, the NVP also has on exhibit an Army RU-8D Seminole. This aircraft pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of soldiers assigned to perform aerial reconnaissance and cryptologic intelligence-gathering missions during the Vietnam Conflict. The aircraft was completely restored and donated by the Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, Virginia, to the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade.
Flag flies at half-staff at National Vigilance Park in honor of former first lady Nancy Reagan
Finally, the U.S. Navy's contribution to National Vigilance Park bears the markings of an EA-3B aircraft, Ranger 12, assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Two (VQ-2). The original aircraft was lost during an operational mission in the Mediterranean on 25 January 1987 while attempting a landing on the USS Nimitz. All seven crewmembers aboard Ranger 12 perished.
Aerial reconnaissance became necessary in the 1940s and 1950s because of the Cold War. Soviet propaganda boasted of its strong defense capabilities, and its record of achievement in World War II added credibility to these claims. The USSR detonated its first atomic weapon in 1949, years ahead of American estimates. In the 1950s, Soviet advances in rocket science increased the possibility that the continental United States could become a nuclear battleground. Washington's (incorrect) assumption that the Soviets had prompted the Korean War led policymakers to the conclusion that the Soviets were ready for a "hot" war.
However, little was known with any certainty about the post-World War II Soviet military -- its strength, its armament, its deployment, or its intentions. This lack of knowledge was in itself dangerous: it hampered coherent planning by American policymakers, but it also increased the uncertainties of officials and the public alike, increasing the possibility that an ideological or political struggle could quickly escalate into armed conflict.
Therefore, various intelligence programs were created to acquire the information needed for effective military planning. Among them were aerial reconnaissance programs to collect both Photographic Intelligence and Signals Intelligence.
For additional images of National Vigilance Park, please see our National Vigilance Park Image Gallery.