On a Florida beach stand 12 silent service members, eyes toward the sea.
One is a World War II pilot, his flight helmet on his hip. Another is a sailor, binoculars in hand. A marine in dress blues stands sharply at attention.
One carries a fallen comrade on his back.
At his feet are the words “No man left behind.”
The 12 concrete statues are set to become part of a first-of-its-kind veterans memorial underwater of Florida’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s called “The Circle of Heroes.”
The nonprofit Brighter Future Florida, headed by former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, is working to fund the first underwater veterans memorial, which the organization hopes will become a worldwide diving destination. The memorial is the brainchild of Jolly's uncle, diving instructor and oceanographer Heyward Matthews, who has already sunk tanks and a Neptune bomber only for them to disappear after the next storm.
Located about 10 miles off the Pinellas County coast in 40 feet of water, the memorial is planned to include 24 different life-size concrete statues of men and women in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. Because the memorial will be in shallower water, visitors won't have to dive to see it -- snorkeling swimmers should have a good view from near the surface.
The six-foot statues will be placed in a 100-foot circle, with a center monument featuring five bronze emblems -- one for each branch of the Armed Services.
Half of the statues have already been built and paid for. Twelve more need sponsorships and donations.
Preston Rudy, the spokesman for the organization, said they hoped to have the first 12 statues deployed to the bottom of the sea by now. But the weather has prevented them so far.
“In short, the waves have been too big,” Rudy told Connecting Vets.
It’ll take another about $350,000 to complete Phase II -- the second set of 12 statues, Rudy said.
“We expect to reach that goal and have those statues deployed in 2020,” he said.
Once the first 12 statues are bolted to the reef floor, the group plans to hold a ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony, “officially opening the attraction,” Rudy said. “We hope that will happen in June, but again we are dependent on Mother Nature cooperating.”