It's a unique veterans memorial, a certain tourist draw and a free attraction — if you can dive down more than 40 feet into the Gulf of Mexico. The Circle of Heroes underwater memorial about 10 miles off the coast of Clearwater was dedicated this week, and it is a wonderful addition to Tampa Bay's efforts to honor the military veterans who have served this nation so well. Much of the credit goes to former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who embraced a relative's vision and led the fundraising effort to make it a reality.
Jolly helped raise $150,000 through his nonprofit, Brighter Future Florida, and Pinellas County kicked in $50,000. His uncle, Heyward Matthews, had the brainstorm. Matthews, a professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College, wanted an under water veterans memorial that would be attractive to divers and interesting to those who may not be inclined to visit more traditional memorials.
The result: The Circle of Heroes, which ultimately will feature two dozen 6-foot concrete statues depicting members of the military and arranged in a 100-foot circle. Half of the statues, nine men and three women featuring five military branches, have been positioned and were shown off this week. The rest are expected to be added next year.
This is an innovative memorial that expands Tampa Bay's many efforts to honor veterans — and it's certain to attract more visitors to the region.