Nation’s First Underwater Veterans Memorial Opens in Florida
Circle of Heroes officially open to divers
By Becca Hurley August 6, 2019
The nation’s first underwater dive memorial is officially open to the public. Located about 10 miles off Clearwater, Florida, the Circle of Heroes dive site pays respect to veterans and those who currently serve in the U.S. armed forces.
The dive site, currently made up of 12 life-size statues placed at a depth of 45 feet, is part of the greater Veterans Reef scuba diving area in the Gulf of Mexico. The underwater statues, which represent men and women serving in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy, are placed in a circle around a memorial that includes bronze crests symbolizing each branch of the military.
By the end of 2020, the dive site will feature a total of 24 detailed structures, but in the meantime, divers can visit phase 1 of this unique project.
We had a chance to dive the site a week prior to the public unveiling with local veteran divers, and it was a transformative experience. Veteran and former Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell of the U.S. Army was present and shared his excitement to dive the site for the first time with us.
Campbell, who served in the military for 13 years and completed three tours of Iraq always loved the water. Having grown up in the nearby Crystal River area, he always wanted to become a commercial deep sea diver.
After leaving the Army, he was able to finally fulfill that dream, but after a year of commercial diving, prior injuries sustained during his time in the military were catching up to him. Campbell knew he wanted to continue diving, so he landed a job at Narcosis Scuba in Tarpon Springs, a dive shop known for employing veterans.
Campbell says diving is his form of therapy. “Diving is a complete lifestyle, and to do this for a living makes me feel super lucky and fortunate,” he adds.
Underwater at the Circle of Heroes site, Campbell paid respect to the statue that represented a kneeling soldier. He slowly made his way around the circle, stopping at each statue to take in the moment.
But the ultimate underwater surprise was seeing his name engraved on a plaque on the statue that represented the Iraq War soldier.
underwater veterans memorial statue
Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell the moment he realizes his name is included on the statue of the Iraq War soldier.
Back on the boat, Campbell shared what it meant to him to be included, but ultimately this dive site gave him the opportunity “to reflect and really think about all the soldiers I knew who never made it back home.”
For Campbell, scuba diving is a hobby he has been happy to return to, and he can’t wait to share this experience with other divers, military or not, he says. “It’s a special and truly unique experience.”