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Largo asks for public's help to restore memorial

(ran East, West, Seminole editions)

In less than a decade, vandalism, weather, poor quality materials and skateboarders have turned the city's Military Court of Honor into an eyesore.

It will cost $160,000 to restore the memorial to veterans, and the city is turning to the public for the funds. A USO-style fundraiser is planned for Oct. 2 at the Largo Cultural Center.

The court, dedicated April 20, 1995, was the first section of the multimillion-dollar Largo Central Park on East Bay Drive to open.

Several years ago, it was renamed the James S. Miles and Richard A. Leandri Military Court of Honor. Miles, a retired Army colonel and former Largo city commissioner, came up with the idea for the court, and Leandri was his co-chair on the court advisory council.

Miles, who died last year, was dismayed by the court's deterioration, his wife Carol said last year. Leandri, who developed a number of local shopping centers and malls, died in 1998.

Today, pink engraved pavers lining the court walkway are faded, cracked and broken. Some of the black painted lettering of names, ranks, branches and locations of military honorees has disappeared, and inscriptions are barely visible.

A curved wall on one side of the court once displayed 30 plaques dedicated to various military campaigns and six brass seals of the military branches. Five of the seals were stolen over the last year after someone pried them off with a crowbar.

"One of the seals was broken in the process, but they took it anyway," said Greg Brown, superintendent of Largo's Parks Department. "It's sad."

Since then, all of the plaques and the last seal have been removed and the wall painted white.

Vandalism is just one of the problems that has afflicted the court in recent years.

The city chose cheap materials that haven't survived the weather and the people who visit the area, officials said.

"The (plastic) plaques didn't survive the combination of being in the direct sunlight and the skateboarders going over them," said Henry Schubert, assistant city manager. "In hindsight, we could have used some materials that would have been more appropriate for the wear and tear of the weather. For the new plaques we'll use a more durable material."

Brown said the city spent an estimated $15,000 over the last nine years to maintain the court.

Now, the city intends to replace the 3,000 square feet of granite tiles and concrete slab with a compacted stone base and brick pavers that will allow contraction and expansion to prevent cracks and breakage. The bricks and laser-inscribed engravings, made by Brick Markers of West Palm Beach, have a lifetime guarantee, he said.

The three fountains in the pond adjacent to the court also need to be replaced, Brown said. "They've reached the end of their life," he said. The plan is to install a central fountain with several tiers that will be lighted at night, he said. The fountains have been turned off.

"We built the court to honor our veterans," Schubert said. "We need to fix it up so it's a fitting memorial."