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Local vets plan WWII tribute on Memorial Island

STORY BY MARY SCHENKEL (Week of June 16, 2022)

Members of the local chapter of the Military Officers Association of America are spearheading the creation of a tribute to the “Greatest Generation,” the men and women who served in World War II, to be located in Vero’s Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary.

Forty-two Indian River County residents lost their lives during WWII, and the county has been home to many more who served in that war.

“We like to take the lead on things; we’re the officers and we lead. We did very well with the World War I monument. We’re very proud of that,” said Lt. Col. Carroll Oates, tribute committee co-chair with Col. Tony Young, USA Ret.

The group previously spearheaded the World War I “Dixie Doughboy” statue, which was dedicated on Veterans Day 2021. That project was chaired by Col. Michael DiScipio, USMC, Ret., and Col. Carlos Halcomb, USAF Ret.

Oates explained that rather than constructing a traditional monument, this tribute is planned as a permanent Parade Reviewing Stand to replace mobile event staging.  Memorial Island serves as a gathering place for ceremonies to honor the men and women who served our country in all branches of the military.

Oates said they have already received the support of the city’s Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary committee, city and county leadership, and are now fundraising to make the project, which is expected to cost roughly $400,000, a reality.

“The Veterans Council is made of about 24 veterans organizations, and this is a very patriotic community. We want everybody involved,” said John Michael Matthews, Veterans Memorial Island Sanctuary chairman. 

“We had all kinds of ideas, and we finally narrowed it down. We were missing something with World War II on the island and we were also missing a Parade Reviewing Stand. So, we zeroed in on that,” said Oates.

The 30-inch-high Parade Reviewing Stand would incorporate four pillars in the front to display the Victory Medal (front and back), the Vero Beach Naval Air Station Logo and the Honorable Discharge Pin, with WWII Campaign Ribbons from the Americas, Asia Pacific, European Africa and the Victory Medal. The tributes will all be tiled, making them waterproof and weatherproof. Future WWII tributes, such as to Normandy and Iwo Jima, are also a possibility.

Their proposal would shift the current view of the stage area some 20 degrees west, so that audiences no longer face the sun. To enhance the site and provide shade, a Contemplation Grove would be planted behind the Reviewing Stand and additional trees would surround the seating area. Sight lines would radiate out to those monuments on the island, with views to the lagoon.

Matthews noted that work will have to wait until the city replaces the bridge to the island, which is scheduled to take place sometime between Veterans Day 2022 and Memorial Day 2023. He added that the $1.3 million needed for the bridge has already been set aside.

Committee member Barbara Ruddy said she would like to see the WWII tribute dedicated on Veteran's Day 2023.

“We all know that these living veterans from World War II are dying at a very high rate of speed. They're in their late 90s, early 100s, and so for me, speed is an essential item,” said Ruddy.

Contributions to the project are being funneled through the Cultural Council of Indian River County, so checks should be made out to CCIRC-WWII Tribute.