The first dozen statues of a new underwater veterans memorial have been lowered along Florida’s Gulf coast, near Clearwater.
The underwater dive memorial, called “Circle of Heroes,” will eventually feature 24 concrete statues representing the men and women in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy, according to John David White, director of Brighter Future Florida. That’s former U.S. Rep. David Jolly’s nonprofit group, which is in charge of the project.
The project took a few years to get off the ground, White said, but it was worth it. The first of the statues went down on Thursday.
“It’s so humbling to see something that honors our veterans, to have something locally on our coasts. ... It’s very special,” White told the Miami Herald.
Besides serving as a recreational and tourist attraction, White said the site will help provide aqua therapy to veterans healing from physical and mental injuries such as PTSD.
The six-foot statues will form a circle and will surround a five-sided center monument with five bronze emblems, which will represent each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, White said. While most of the statues will have generic faces, a few of them will be custom-made to look like specific veterans in the next set.
Submerged in 40 feet of water about 10 miles off Clearwater, the site will be next to Veterans Reef, a popular fishing and diving location, and will also serve as an artificial reef for the Gulf’s marine life.
The memorial was inspired by Jolly’s uncle, Dr. Heyward Matthews, a marine scientist at St. Petersburg College.
“He had this vision of an artificial reef for a memorial to honor veterans. About 20 years ago, a permit was issued and he laid essentially a traditional artificial reef ... put a plaque saying ‘this is to honors our veteran,’ ” Jolly said during an interview with Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend in June. “But he always wanted to do a memorial like this so we teamed up when I left office.”
The Pinellas County Commission gave the organization $50,000 in seed money to kick off the project. The rest of the money for Phase I, White said, was raised through private and corporate donations. Now, they’re working on raising the money for the next phase of the circle. The entire project is expected to cost more than $400,000, according to White.
The site is expected to be open to the public sometime in August. Those interested in donating, can visit Vetmemorial.org