For decades the flagpole at Beal Memorial Cemetery has been the gathering spot for services honoring the military community, but that will soon change with the construction of a new Veteran’s Tribute Tower.
Even though construction of the Veteran’s Tribute Tower hasn’t begun, the Freedom Bell that will be a prominent part of the tower is being used. The bell was rung at the Veteran’s Day observance ceremony last week and for the very first time at its dedication in September.
Brig General David Harris spoke at the dedication ceremony and said the Freedom Bell and the Tribute Tower will be aptly placed here in Ft Walton Beach because the community understands the significance of the contribution of the Veterans,"It was a 17th century poet John Donne who made famous the reference to a tolling bell in his poem ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls” He asked metaphorically “If the bell tolls who does it toll for?” The answer that comes back is something that this community has always gotten right. The bell announces the death of a service member it tolls for all of us. It is the idea that no person is a single individual living unto themselves; we are all members of a worldwide community."
Also during the dedication Mayor Mike Anderson expressed how proud he is to be a part of the project since Florida is the most military friendly state in the union, "And I think by demonstration of the this ceremony today that we can say that Okaloosa County, specifically the city of Ft. Walton Beach is the most civic minded, military minded, military appreciated community in the state of Florida."
The bell was originally cast on September 11th as Veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the War on Terror, gathered alongside activity duty service members. They lined up in front of the Verdin Company’s mobile foundry and one by one, passed bronze ingots into the foundry furnace. The ingots were slowly heated to 2200 degrees, beginning the process of forming the bell.
The President of the Tower Board, Bill Zuppa, said there are over 1600 veterans buried at Beal Memorial and the Freedom Bell is the first step toward the creation of the tower to honor all of them, "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."
Since the Freedom Bell was cast, the Veteran’s Tribute Tower Committee has been displaying it at events around town. The goal is to give the community a chance to see the bell and help raise awareness and money needed to complete the tower project.
Committee members say they are about $100,000 shy of the total $250,000 price tag. Construction of the tower will begin once all the funds have been raised, with the Tower Board hoping to get started by the fall of 2015. The project is expected to take two months to complete.