CLEARWATER, Fla. — A Minnesota company has helped make the nation’s first-of-its-kind underwater dive memorial honoring our veterans a reality.

Dave and Shelly Speedling, owners of SVJ Creative Designs of Kellogg, created three of the statues now submerged in Gulf of Mexico waters and are starting work on the next phase.

“We are humbled and honored to be part of this historic effort to create the nation’s first underwater Veterans memorial,” Shelly Speedling, co-owner of SVJ Creative Designs, said. “As artists, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing our work is paying tribute to the brave men and women who have given so much to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.”

The Circle of Heroes memorial officially opened this week, roughly 10 miles off the shore of Clearwater, Florida, at a depth of 40 feet. The underwater memorial is made up of 12 life-size concrete statues representing the men and women serving in the United States Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy.

“We are celebrating a momentous day for our country, our state and our nation. But most importantly, we’re honoring our heroes with an indelible legacy that will be admired for generations. This treasure of the Gulf will forever remind us of their sacrifices and their service to our country,” Congressman Gus Bilirakis said.

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SVJ Creative Designs created three of the statues at the memorial: the Soldier Kneeling with Battlefield Cross, the Southeast Asia War Statue, and the Female Iraq Freedom Fighter. An additional 12 statues will be installed in 2020 to complete the 100-foot Circle of Heroes. SVJ Designs is working on the first statue of phase two of the project.

Dr. Heyward Mathews, a professor of oceanography at St. Petersburg College, cut the red ribbon officially opening Circle of Heroes to divers. He started pursuing the idea of an underwater memorial nearly 10 years ago. His vision was to create a unique way to honor those who served, but also construct an underwater memorial that could be used as a therapeutic dive site for disabled veterans suffering from PTSD, depression and trauma.

The statues making up Circle of Heroes were made possible thanks to the generosity of private businesses, community donors and Pinellas County.

For more information on Circle of Heroes visit www.VetMemorial.org.

The Circle of Heroes memorial opened this week, 10 miles off the shore of Clearwater, Florida, at a depth of 40 feet. It is made up of 12 life-size concrete statues.

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