Remembering and honoring our veterans is a quintessential element of travel for many Americans. On Monday, August 5, 2019, veterans, their families, and elected leaders gathered off the coast of Clearwater, Florida, as a ribbon connecting two boats was cut to signify the opening of the Circle of Heroes Memorial -- a unique place that invites reflection and gratitude. This is the first underwater memorial in the nation that invites divers 40 feet below the water to view a dozen life-sized statues representing the men and women that have fought in the five branches of the military: Army, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines, and Navy.
Keep reading to learn more about the memorial, what inspired it, and how to visit.
Inspiration For The Memorial
This unique and interactive memorial, Circle of Heroes, was designed by Heyward Matthews, a professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College.
According to Task and Purpose, a driving force behind Matthews’s creation of the memorial was his desire to attract younger Americans who aren’t typically drawn to visiting veterans memorials.
An even greater purpose for the memorial: to boost the spirits of veterans with mental illnesses and physical restrictions. Research shows that many veterans suffering from mental illness and physical restrictions use diving as a therapeutic activity, meaning that veterans suffering from handicaps, amputations, or mental illnesses from war such as PTSD will be able to greatly benefit from the memorial.
Neysa Grzywa, director of business operations for Arizona nonprofit Deep Sea Valkyries, told Task and Purpose, “When you descend below the waves you enter a world of peace and tranquility. 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.”
Aside from the goals of giving younger Americans an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of servicemen and women and aiding physically and mentally wounded soldiers, another bonus is that the memorial could mean an increase in Clearwater, Florida’s tourism revenue.
About The Memorial
The underwater veterans memorial is funded by private donations and some public funding from Florida’s Pinellas County according to WUSF News. the first phase cost $200,000 and the second phase is expected to cost $350,000.
The memorial has received warm and heartfelt responses since its opening. CNN reports that Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell dived into the memorial on the day of its opening and said, “It's just one of those things that just hits you.”
As the memorial touches a soft spot in the hearts of everyone who’s been involved in making it a reality, plus those who have visited it so far, there are high hopes for its success and impact. ABC Action News reported that the underwater memorial only has 12 of the 24 statues that are supposed to complete it, but the hope is that by 2020 the other 12 statues can be added to complete the 100-foot circle.
Visiting The Memorial
The memorial is in Clearwater, Florida, about an hour away from both Tampa and Saint Petersburg. If you’re in Orlando, the memorial might make a nice day trip since it's only two and a half hours away.
The only stipulation for visitors of the memorial according to CNN is the ability to dive to the bottom of the 40-foot deep circle. Visitors have to have their own scuba equipment.
While the memorial was built specifically for veterans with physical limitations and mental health conditions like PTSD, the site is open to all and is also meant for tourists. So, gather your scuba gear and start planning your trip to the Clearwater area to pay your respects in this beautiful, underwater memorial.
Although its a little over a six-hour drive across the state, Florida boasts another unique diving adventure. Pack your gear and prepare to take a dive into America’s first underwater museum in South Walton, Florida.