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Underwater military memorial opens off coast of Clearwater

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(Image from WFTS-TV/Tampa)

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A dozen concrete statues of U.S. service members have been placed in the Gulf of Mexico, 10 miles off the coast of Clearwater Beach, as the nation's first underwater dive memorial honoring our country's veterans.

The Tampa Bay Times reports dozens of divers, including veteran amputees, swam down 40 feet Monday as part of the Circle of Heroes’ opening ceremony. The memorial is now open to the public.

The life-size concrete statues represent men and women serving in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. The monument are meant to be a permanent fixture at Veteran’s Reef.

An additional 12 statues are projected to be installed in 2020 to complete the 100-foot Circle of Heroes.

Former Congressman David Jolly’s nonprofit, Brighter Future Florida, led the fundraising to complete the memorial. It was designed by his uncle. Heyward Matthews, a professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College.

Pinellas County provided $50,000, and Brighter Future Florida raised $150,000.

Many say this isn't just a memorial, but a place of therapy for our vets.

"In places where our veterans should feel the most safe and secure, many feel more vulnerable than when they're being shot at. But 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, told WFTS-TV.