On Friday, February 2, 2018, one of our Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge participants was in attendance for the unveiling of Circle of Honor dedication.  Thank you to Andrew Lourake for sharing pictures from this awesome event!

Pinellas County is adding a “Circle of Heroes” to its existing Veterans Artificial Reef. This new addition will feature 24 life size military statues to honor our veterans. The plan is to deploy these new statues in the Gulf in 45 feet of water off Dunedin. In 1999 Pinellas County Artificial Reef Program construct a new artificial reef in the Gulf 10 miles west of Dunedin. At the base of this reef was a concrete monument with a bronze plate that read:

“This reef is dedicated to the men and women of our armed services, whose dedication and sacrifice have made this country what it is today, the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

The buoy that marked this reef had an American Flag flying that was periodically replaced when necessary. Since that date, countless veterans have had their ashes placed in the water at this buoy.

In June, the Pinellas County Commission allocated $50,000 to start work on the construction of an underwater memorial that will be called a “Circle of Heroes”. The plan is to have a circle of life size concrete military statues placed on the sea floor in 45 feet of water 10 miles offshore from Pinellas County. While there are numerous memorials around the country to honor our veterans, this would be the first “underwater memorial” open to divers. This project would be unique in the country and hopefully make Pinellas a “dive destination”. The attraction would not only take advantage of the underwater art projects that are occurring all around the world, but would also be a unique memorial to our veterans. Having a reef designed especially for divers would also be the first of its kind in the country.

This new addition would be added to the existing artificial reef that has become popular with anglers and divers. Under four mooring buoys, there will be the
“Circle of Heroes” that will feature life size concrete statues in a circle 100 feet in diameter. In the center of this circle will be a concrete monument with bronze emblems of the Army, Navy Air Force, Marines, and the Coast Guard.

The first nine statues will be ordered in the coming months from a firm in South Dakota that sells military statues that are used in parks and cemeteries around the country. The remaining 15 statues will be custom made to our specifications. The first nine will include an airman, a Korean War era solder, a marine in dress blues, a female nurse, a Vietnam solder, an Iraq freedom fighter, a female solder, a Navy sailor, and a “no man left behind” statue. Local veterans groups will help chose the remaining statues.

Some possible custom made statues could include statues of General George Patton (complete with twin 45’s), General Douglas MacArthur, and General Norman Schwarzkopf. Additional statues could feature an EOD solder with an IED in his hand, a wounded marine on a stretcher with a corpsman kneeling next to him. Another statue could feature a Navy sonar man at a console. an airman working on a jet engine, a navy seal in scuba gear coming out of the water, and a wounded warrior in rehab on parallel bars.

The $50,000 from the Pinellas County commission will cover the cost of the first nine statues and the center monument. The remaining funds will be sought from the Pinellas Tourist Development Council and the Florida Legislature. The custom statues will cost between $12,000 and $15,000 each, and the deployment by barge and crane will cost around $100,000. The total cost of the project will be around $450,000.

In recent years underwater art has become very popular around the world. The life size statue of Christ in the Florida Keys has been visited by thousands of divers every year for over 50 years. This underwater veterans memorial is expected to not only honor our veterans, but also make Pinellas County a “dive destination” for diving tourist from all across the country and around the world. 

This new memorial is projected to be deployed by late summer of 2018. For more information about this project, contact Dr. Heyward Mathews, Oceanographer at St. Petersburg College, @hmathews.tampabay.rr.com