Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island will be home to women's veteran memorial

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

OKALOOSA ISLAND — A new memorial will begin making the Okaloosa County-owned Veterans Park a major destination for locals and visitors alike on Veterans Day.

At 2 p.m. on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, eight bronze, life-size statues of women who made significant military service contributions during conflicts throughout U.S. history will be unveiled at the 17.5-acre park. Long known as a rookery for great blue herons, the park is adjacent to Choctawhatchee Bay and the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center.

This rendering depicts Revolutionary War hero Margaret Corbin, who will be one of the eight honorees at the new women's veteran memorial at Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island.

The eight women vets represented by the statues ranging from a woman who served in the Revolutionary War to one who served in the war in Afghanistan.

Meet the honorees:These are the 8 female vets to be featured in memorial at Okaloosa Veterans Park in 2021

The idea to memorialize women veterans at the park was suggested a few years ago from County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel, whose district includes Okaloosa Island. Ketchel, who is the Florida state historian for the Choctawhatchee Bay Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, has noted that Florida is home to the second-largest population of women veterans in the nation after Washington, D.C.

County officials paid $1.8 million in county bed tax money for the memorial, which continues to be installed by Empire Builders Group of Pensacola. Of that total, $595,656 was paid to Jon Hair Monumental Sculptures, of Fleming Island, to make the statues.

“I was truly inspired to memorialize these eight courageous women for their extraordinary acts of courage and bravery in service to our nation," Hair, who plans to unveil the statues on Veterans Day, said in a statement.

The eight statues will be installed at the park in the last few days leading up to their grand unveiling, county spokeswoman April Sarver said. Lighting and security cameras will help protect them, she said.

Starting on Veterans Day, visitors entering the memorial will cross a wooden bridge that will extend from the Convention Center parking lot over a usually-dry stormwater retention pond.

On the other side, they will arrive at the dedication plaza, where a path will encircle a flying U.S. flag, as well as POW-MIA, Florida state and county flags.

The path will then head northeast toward the bay and around an existing pond. The eight statues will stand on podiums lining the path and be accompanied by signs that share the women's heroics.

The first statue visitors will see, next to the flags, will represent Revolutionary War hero Margaret Corbin. Like Corbin, each of the women honored were chosen by the county Women’s Veteran Memorial Advisory Committee and approved by the County Commission.

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Sarver said the one-hour Veterans Day ceremony at the park will take place on Bayview Plaza just outside of the Convention Center. The event will include special music, presentation of the colors by the Coast Guard honor guard and a welcome message from Ketchel.

“We’ll also have a short presentation by the Daughters of the American Revolution and VIPs from the U.S. Air Force, including our keynote speaker,” Sarver said. “We have not yet released the names of the presenters for security purposes.”