State visits Marion park for WWII memorial ideas

Published: Monday, March 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 1, 2004 at 12:27 a.m.
Officials from the state Department of Veterans' Affairs toured the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday afternoon to get ideas for Florida's World War II Memorial in Tallahassee.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the memorial was held last November, and the project is now in the design phase, said Rocky McPherson, executive director of the state Department of Veterans' Affairs.
The Veterans Memorial Park is "superb," he said. "What impressed me most is the history here - recognition of our nation's wars."
McPherson noted the involvement of the families, military and community groups, and businesses, and he praised the park's educational use as a place for students to learn about the country's history.
"There are ideas we can take back for the design we're working on," he said.
They include the park's brick program, he said.
"It provides a funding stream. This essentially is a national shrine."
People can buy bricks with names inscribed on them bricks.
Other features at the park, such as the benches, could be added to the Korean and Vietnam memorials in Tallahassee, said McPherson, a retired Marine Corps colonel. "There are things we can do to improve those over time."
But the focus now, he said, is on finishing the World War II veterans memorial before its scheduled dedication on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. It will be built on a site near the Museum of Florida History.
"With the World War II memorial, one thing we don't have that you've got here is the capability to expand," McPherson told the tour group, which included Charley Price, the department's external affairs director. Dick Merrill, who formerly oversaw the administrative parts of the Veterans Memorial Park, led the tour.
The World War II monument in Tallahassee will be 18.5 feet tall and weigh 36 tons, said Price, a retired Army colonel.
It will be an exact replica of the Florida monument that will be part of the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., he said, adding that the stone will come from the same quarry.
The plans also call for 67 smaller granite pillars - one for each county in the state - around the monument. The pillars will include plaques with information about the counties' contributions to the war effort, McPherson said.
Other features could include benches and a wall behind the monument with information about the different theaters of the war, Price said.
He and McPherson took the tour Saturday after taking part in the Florida Retiree Appreciation Day for military retirees. The event, which was organized by the Retiree Council at Fort Stewart, was held at Steinbrenner's Ramada Inn.
The World War II memorial was authorized in the late 1990s by the Legislature, McPherson said, adding that legislators required the memorial to be completed by 2005.
The total cost of memorial and educational supplements is $800,000, he said. The Legislature provided $200,000 for the project, while the state Department of Education gave $200,000, he said. Individuals, local governments, businesses and groups have given donations for the remainder of the cost.
So far, nearly $700,000 of the total cost has been raised, McPherson said.
In Tallahassee, the Vietnam memorial was completed in 1985, and the Korean memorial was built between 1999 and 2000. Construction of the World War II memorial is scheduled to start in June or July, McPherson said. "It should have been reversed, but I had no control of that. But it really is good that we're getting it done now."
About 600,000 World War II veterans live in Florida, and 1,800 of them die each day, he said.
"The memorial in Tallahassee is more than just a monument. We're calling it a living monument," McPherson said, referring to the educational aspects of the project.
The Museum of Florida History will add a permanent World War II exhibit, and high school history teachers throughout the state will receive an educational supplement about World War II.
In addition, the state will publish a World War II Florida Heritage Trail guide featuring the history of the state's military sites, such as current and former bases and air fields.
"It's the same concept as here," McPherson said. "You want people to know how our nation developed and the price that was paid to keep it."

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