On the sandy bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, 12 concrete statues stand in a circle to honor the men and women who have served in the US military.
The Circle of Heroes Veterans’ Memorial opened to the public this week 10 miles off the coast of Clearwater, Florida. Its creators say it’s the nation’s first underwater dive memorial honoring veterans.
The life-size statues are arranged in a 100-foot circle and represent members of five branches of the US military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
The memorial is 40 feet down, so visitors will need scuba gear to see it.
“It’s just one of those things that just hits you,” Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell, who dived the site on Monday, said in an underwater video posted by CNN affiliate WFTS. Campbell served as a combat medic in Iraq.
“Wow, that’s amazing,” he said. “Especially after losing so many people that I knew over there.”
The memorial is expected to be a popular attraction for divers, but some hope that it will also be a place of healing for veterans.
“When you descend below the waves, you enter a place of peace and tranquility. The sounds of chaos are replaced by nothing but your own breath, reminding you that you’re alive and not to waste that miracle on the pain,” Neysa Grzywa of Deep Sea Valkyries said at the dedication ceremony. The group takes veterans on guided sea adventures to help them deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related injuries.
Circle of Heroes organizers plan to install 12 more of the 6-foot-tall statues at the memorial in 2020.