Underwater memorial in Florida honoring veterans opens for divers

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Florida underwater memorial honoring veterans

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

This was a different kind of ribbon-cutting ceremony, one that required a deep dive.

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The nation's first underwater memorial honoring America's veterans opened Monday, 40 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and 10 miles west of Clearwater Beach, Florida, WFTS reported.

Heyward Matthews, a professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College, used oversized scissors to officially open the Circle of Heroes, according to Military Times.

The underwater memorial currently consists of 12, 6-foot concrete statues of men and women representing the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, WFLA reported. Twelve more statues are projected to be built on the Veteran's Reef in 2020 to complete the 100-foot structure, WFTS reported.

Neysa Grzywa, of Deep Sea Valkyries, told reporters the memorial will be therapeutic for veterans.

"When you descend below the waves you enter a world of peace and tranquility,” said Grzywa, the director of business operations for the Arizona nonprofit. “The sounds of chaos are replaced with nothing but your own breath, reminding you that you’re alive and not to waste that miracle on the pain.”

The 2,000-pound statues are arranged in a circle and face a pentagon-shaped memorial that has bronze emblems of each of the five service branches, according to Military Times. The base of each statue contain plaques with the names of veterans.

Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell was a diver Monday, and he was surprised that one of the statues had his name on it.

"I didn't know that my name was on here," Campbell told WFLA. "It says in honor of Staff Sgt. Campbell. That's me."

"With the nation's first underwater memorial, we are shining the spotlight on the importance of remembering those who have fought to protect our freedoms," Karen Seel, chairwoman of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, told reporters. "People around the world will visit this iconic site, increasing dive-related tourism and helping businesses grow in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area."

Monday's ceremony featured a wreath tossed into the water to honor Dave Thomas, 77, a Vietnam Air Force veteran who built the memorial's center monument, the Times reported. Thomas died last Tuesday.

“It’s been a part of his heart for the last three years,” his wife, Rana Thomas, told the newspaper. “This was something we wanted to see to come to fruition.”

Pinellas County provided $50,000 for the project in 2017 and Brighter Future Florida raised an additional $150,000 to fund the project, the Times reported.

A diver checks out a memorial to a veteran carrying a fellow soldier at the Circle of Heroes memorial in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.
A diver checks out a memorial to a veteran carrying a fellow soldier at the Circle of Heroes memorial in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.

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