When Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell made his first dive at the Circle of Heroes, he had no idea what he would encounter. He had no idea one of the statues had his name on it! “I didn’t know that my name was on here,” said Campbell. “It says in honor of Staff Sgt. Campbell. That’s me.”

The Circle of Heroes is the nation’s first underwater dive memorial honoring our veterans. There was a ribbon cutting ceremony and dedication today.

“With the nation’s first underwater memorial, we are shining the spotlight on the importance of remembering those who have fought to protect our freedoms,” said Pinellas County Board Chair Karen Seel. “People around the world will visit this iconic site, increasing dive-related tourism and helping businesses grow in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area.”

The memorial is roughly ten miles off the coast of Clearwater in 40 feet of water. It took about a decade to come up with the idea, fund it and then put the plan into action. Pinellas County contributed 50-thousand dollars the remaining money came from private and corporate donations.

Right now there are 12 statues that make up the Circle of Heroes and 12 more are slated to be put in place in 2020. The money is still being raised for that portion of the project.

Former Congressman David Jolly, whose non-profit, Brighter Future Florida, is spearheading the campaign to complete the memorial. “This underwater exhibit featuring our nation’s heroes will also help sustain marine life in our Gulf waters by serving as an artificial reef,” said Jolly. “I also thank my uncle, Dr. Heyward Mathews, for creating the concept, and for his dedication to growing the dive community and tourism in our region.”

Sam Flores was one of those on hand for Monday’s dedication. His brother Billy was a seamen who died on the Coast Guard Vessel U.S.S. Blackthorn in 1980. “He through life preservers to the survivors in the water,” said Flores. “And it cost him his life to stay behind with the ship.” Billy Flores will be memorialized in one of the statues placed in 2020.

For more information on the Circle of Heroes you can log onto www.vetmemorial.org.