By Larry Jasper
About 11 miles off the coast of Clearwater, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico sits 12, six-foot-high concrete depictions of our military. Each represents a different war, a different role, and a different hero. Each weigh 1,200 pounds, assuring it will stay where intended. It is called the Circle of Heroes (The Circle).
Dedicated on August 5, 2019, The Circle is the first underwater military memorial in the U.S. While it serves as a recreational dive site with a depth of 40 – 45 feet, the vision is to use the site for adaptive sports therapy programs for disabled veteran divers. This would provide physical and mental health therapy for veterans who participate in scuba diving rehabilitation.
The statues are placed in a circle with a center monument of five bronze emblems representing each of the U.S. Armed Forces.
At the 2019 convention in Richmond, Virginia, the idea to dive The Circle first came up in conversation between myself and Director of the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) Chaplains Council, Rabbi Irv Elson, who is also a retired Navy Captain with service in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The dive plan also included Elson’s longtime friend and Gulf War Veteran, Rabbi Ammos Chorny from Naples, Florida. All three of us have over 45 years of diving experience.
While planning this dive, Elson said he was, “always in search of new and meaningful ways to honor our Veterans and remember those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our country.” He felt a dive to this most sacred place would be a unique opportunity.
After two unsuccessful attempts due to storms, we were finally able to dive on May 6, 2021. During the dive, a wreath of shells and JWB coin were placed at the foot of one of the statues.
A simple scuba dive helped cement a relationship between two organizations.
The JWB, which is 104-years-old, considers itself to be JWV’s younger sibling. Elson has worked to grow and strengthen the bonds between the two organizations by promoting joint ceremonies, combined advocacy on issues, and joint programming.
“While JWB Jewish Chaplains Council works with our Jewish service members, we proudly hand them off to JWV as they transition to civilian lives, officially becoming veterans,” said Elson.
We hope to make this dive an annual event. If you are a certified diver and interested in participating in the future, please contact Larry Jasper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the memorial, visit https://brighterfutureflorida.org.
Volume 75. Number 2. 2021