The city of Ft. Walton Beach soon will have a permanent place for residents to show their respect and appreciation for veterans in the community. A Veterans Tribute Tower of Northwest Florida will be constructed at the main entrance of Beal Memorial Cemetery.
Ft. Walton Beach and the surrounding areas are rich with military tradition. Northwest Florida has played a pivotal role in our national defense over the years and the goal of the Tower is to leave a lasting legacy in the community. Army Veteran Tom Rice is the owner of Magnolia Grill in Ft. Walton Beach and Vice President of Public Relations for the Veterans Tribute Tower. He says such a monument has long been needed.
“Five years ago the VA said we had about 4,000 WWII veterans, a third of which served in Korea and Vietnam. So, you have this base of military folks, who then having been here at Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt, Duke, the various fields, NAS Pensacola, Tyndall, all these areas that were WWII used, came back and stayed. And we have so many veterans here, yet there aren’t any monuments here in our community recognizing the veteran’s service. Most of the memorials that are built are out on Eglin Reservation and are not accessible to folks.”
Rice says it makes sense to build a military monument in a central location that already serves as ceremonial ground.
“For many, many years now we have celebrated Veterans Day and Memorial Day at Beal Memorial Cemetery. 3,4,500 folks will show up, rain or shine, wreaths are placed, speeches are made, flags are saluted, rifles are fired, taps are played and so we chose that Beal Memorial Cemetery would be the ideal site for our Veterans Tribute Tower.”
The President of the Tower Board, Bill Zuppa, says the cemetery has hosted such ceremonies because there are over 1600 veterans buried there.
“We want to do something to recognize them. And also a place where people can go not only during the holidays, where we celebrate Veterans Day and Memorial Day there, but at any time during the year, they’ll be a garden of reflection right there, and a great way to remember their loved ones that entered there.”
Zuppa, who’s retired from the Air Force, says the Veterans Tribute Tower will be constructed at the main entrance of Beal Memorial Cemetery. It was designed by the Verdin Company out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“The Verdin Company has a mobile foundry that they’ll bring down here, and that will be a celebration in itself. They’ll cast the bell right on-site. And after casting the bell, we’ll have the tower put up. The tower’s about 30 foot tall, it will have four clocks, four 3’foot diameter clocks. It will have a Carillon. And of course the 250 pound 24’ inch bronze bell that will ring in memory of our veterans.”
For now, Zuppa and his team are using a small set of hand bells and a table-top model of the Tribute Tower in an effort to generate public support for the project. Thus far, fundraising efforts have raised about one-third of the $250,000 needed for construction. The tower board is hoping to break ground within a year from now, around Memorial Day 2015. More information and a design of the tower are available on line at www.veteranstower dot com.