Visitors to the Tampa Bay, Florida area will have the unique opportunity soon to experience the Circle of Heroes, an underwater memorial to veterans. Created by oceanographer Heyward Mathews, the memorial will be part of the Veterans Reef located 10 miles off the Dunedin Beach coastline.
“(I) just wanted something that was going to be permanent and also wanted something that was going to honor our veterans in a unique and different way,” Dr. Mathews said. The Circle will only be 40 feet beneath the surface, so it will be accessible to both scuba divers and surface snorkelers.
The work in progress has already become a hit in the media, bringing attention to the memorial through dive shops in the area.
“They like to do something different, and after a while, you get tired of seeing shipwrecks,” Mathews said. “I think it’s something that will attract a lot of divers, as well as a lot of veterans.”
Veterans Reef has been in place for 20 years but is only marked by a plaque and an American Flag. Mathews added Army tanks and a Neptune bomber over the years, but his efforts have been destroyed by the elements. The addition will consist of a 100-foot circle surrounded by life-sized cement statutes of service members representing sailors, airmen, soldiers, and Marines. Each weighs 1,300 pounds and will be bolted to the bottom of the reef. The centerpiece is a monument with 5 bronze emblems representing each of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Circle of Heroes is supported financially by the dive shops, individual donors, the non-profit group Brighter Future Florida, and Pinellas County. Recent census data indicates that 11% of the county’s population is made up of veterans, over 87,000 people.
“These are our guys, these are the people that we served with, that we knew, that we don’t know, we’ll never know, but they’re our people,” veteran David Thomas said.