The day a Har­rier jet landed on the Mall was ei­ther ‘bar­baric’ or ‘cool,’ de­pend­ing on the view.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - [email protected]­ Twit­ter: @johnkelly

I re­cently saw a pho­to­graph at a restau­rant in Wash­ing­ton where a Har­rier is land­ing on the Mall. Do you have any in­sight into when this hap­pened and what the oc­ca­sion was? — Amanda Burke, Wash­ing­ton An­swer Man has al­ways been par­tial to the Har­rier, or the McDon­nell Dou­glas AV-8B, as the jump jet is of­fi­cially called. It’s what’s known as a V/STOL air­craft, ca­pa­ble of ver­ti­cal/short take­offs and land­ings.

Run­ways? We don’t need no stink­ing run­ways.

The plane’s abil­ity to hover is how Capt. John Rahm of the U.S. Ma­rine Corps was able to land his Har­rier on the Mall on the morn­ing of June 6, 1991.

Rahm was a vet­eran of Desert Storm, the Per­sian Gulf War, fought un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush. He flew the jet to Wash­ing­ton so it — and he — could be part of a gi­ant cel­e­bra­tion mark­ing the end of the war and hon­or­ing the men and women who pros­e­cuted it.

The Na­tional Vic­tory Cel­e­bra­tion in­cluded a static dis­play on the Mall of the hard­ware that helped win the war. There were he­li­copters, per­son­nel car­ri­ers, Pa­triot mis­siles and, mak­ing the most dra­matic en­trance early on a Thurs­day morn­ing, there was Rahm’s Har­rier.

Rahm flew 35 ground sup­port mis­sions in Desert Storm as part of Ma­rine At­tack Squadron 231, which flew out of a base in Saudi Ara­bia. He flew the Har­rier up from his sta­tion in Cherry Point in North Carolina, land­ing at An­drews Air Force Base and then get­ting a he­li­copter tour of the Mall from the air so he could plan the ap­proach he would make later in the week: right by the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment.

“From a pi­lot­ing per­spec­tive it was just a ver­ti­cal land­ing, some­thing that all of us do all the time,” he told An­swer Man. “It all went well. Thank­fully I didn’t prang the land­ing.”

Com­bat en­gi­neers had in­stalled a 96-by-96-foot alu­minum pad for the Har­rier to land on. Oth­er­wise, de­bris blown up by the 30,000 horse­power Rolls-Royce jet en­gine could have dam­aged the jet. (The grass wouldn’t have fared too well, ei­ther.)

The pa­rade — the big­gest in Wash­ing­ton since World War II — was on Satur­day. More than 8,000 Gulf War vet­er­ans marched up Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue NW from Sev­enth Street, past the Lin­coln Memo­rial and across Memo­rial Bridge and then to the Pen­tagon North Park­ing Lot.

Also in the pa­rade were mis­siles, per­son­nel car­ri­ers tanks. The 67-ton M1A1 tanks and the 30-ton Bradley Fight­ing Ve­hi­cles left tread marks in the as­phalt that had soft­ened in the 85de­gree heat.

A model of an F-15 fighter jet that was be­ing towed couldn’t ne­go­ti­ate a No Left Turn sign near the Lin­coln Memo­rial. The pa­rade stalled for 10 min­utes un­til Mike Fer­raro, a mem­ber of the vol­un­teer pa­rade route staff, shin­nied up the light pole with a screw­driver and took down the sign.

The day in­cluded a fly­over by 83 mil­i­tary air­craft — Na­tional Air­port was closed to pas­sen­ger traf­fic for about 30 min­utes — and was capped by a fire­works dis­play. The week­end at­tracted 800,000 peo­ple.

Not ev­ery­one thought the cel­e­bra­tion, spon­sored by the Desert Storm Home­com­ing Foun­da­tion, was a good idea. It was ex­pen­sive, cost­ing around $12 mil­lion, twice the to­tal of early es­ti­mates. Pri­vate do­na­tions, in­clud­ing from de­fense con­trac­tors, un­der­wrote about half that. (The post­poned pa­rade Pres­i­dent Trump wants had an es­ti­mated price tag of up to $92 mil­lion.)

And some thought it was in poor taste. Af­ter all, 378 Amer­i­can men and women did not re­turn from the war. Many more Iraqis were killed.

“It’s bar­baric that they are dis­play­ing this by the Capi­tol,” Kerri Thomp­son, a col­lege stu­dent from New York City, told a Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter near a dis­play of Tom­a­hawk mis­siles. “The point is that th­ese are big and bad and they kill peo­ple.”

Fel­low stu­dent An­dre Wil­son said, “C’mon. They helped save lives in the end. This is cool.”

Rahm said most of the pho­to­graphs he’s seen of his Har­rier are from when he took off on the day af­ter the pa­rade. He hopped to An­drews Air Force Base to top up his fuel tank and then flew home to Cherry Point.

Rahm, 60, served a to­tal of 26 years in the Ma­rine Corps, re­tir­ing in 2008 as a colonel. To­day, the only man to land a jet on the Mall lives in North Carolina and teaches sail­ing.

Help­ing Hand

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It’s easy. Sim­ply visit pos­thelp­ing­, where you’ll find in­for­ma­tion on our char­ity part­ners — Bright Be­gin­nings, N Street Vil­lage and So Oth­ers Might Eat — and links to give. Just click on “Do­nate.”


A U.S. Ma­rine Har­rier jump jet lands on the Mall on June 6, 1991, as part of the Na­tional Vic­tory Cel­e­bra­tion.

John Kelly's Wash­ing­ton

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