06 Feb Pinellas Plans For Country’s 1st Underwater Veterans Memorial
DUNEDIN, FL — To appreciate this veterans memorial, visitors will need a face mask and fins. Pinellas County has unveiled plans for the country’s first underwater veterans memorial.
The display will feature 24 life-size concrete statues of American military heroes permanently attached to a limestone base 40 feet beneath the surface of the water
Dr. Heywood Matthews, professor emeritus of St. Petersburg College and a longtime diving enthusiast, proposed the memorial as an enhancement to Veterans Reef, located 10 miles off Dunedin Beach in the Gulf of Mexico. The reef, including sunken barges and a submerged bomber plane, was created in 2000. Since then, said Matthews, it has become one of Florida’s most popular fishing reefs.
The memorial Matthews proposes will be geared specifically to sports divers. Located a quarter of a mile north of Veterans Reef, the memorial, called A Circle of Heroes, will feature statues of military heroes such as Gen. George Patton and Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The statues will be situated in a circle spanning 200 feet on the ocean floor. In the middle of the circle will be a concrete monument representing all five branches of the military.
"We took some borings and found a limestone base where we can secure the statues and make sure they don’t sink," said Matthews.
Pinellas County has contributed $12,000 for the first four statues. However, Matthews’ nephew, U.S. Rep. Dave Jolly, R-Florida, will fund the bulk of the memorial through his nonprofit group, Brighter Future Florida.
Jolly estimates it will cost about $500,000 but said it will more than pay for itself in the amount of tourism it will attract.
"We estimate it will have an annual economic impact of more than $7 million through the creation of new jobs and the dive tourism it will bring in," Jolly said.
Matthews said they hope to have the first 12 statues in place by the end of the summer.
"It will attract some fish but we deliberately aren’t making this a fish habitat," said Matthews. "It’s for divers to go down, observe the statues and remember the veterans who sacrificed so much for our freedom."
Video via Heywood Matthews