The bronze parts of the new Fallen Soldier’s Monument at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena are familiar to any infantryman.
Boots flank a bronze M-16 replica stuck into the granite base, a dented combat helmet perched atop the weapon’s butt. It’s a Fallen Soldier Battlefield Cross, a memorial marker erected on the battlefield in memory of a soldier who has been killed.
For 17 years, a permanent version of that battlefield cross has been erected at 17 high schools in the area to remember the sacrifice its alumni made on battlefields or in war zones around the world.
On Friday, one was unveiled outside the arena at 300 A. Philip Randolph Blvd., where the arena’s name and other displays honor veterans. The new memorial joins the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s Fallen Officers Memorial Wall on the other side of the arena entrance.
“VyStar wanted to do something to honor our fallen and Gold Star families, and they reached out to them and to me,” said Florida Fallen Heroes President Dave Seamans, whose first memorial honors his own son, killed in action Aug. 18, 2005, in Iraq.
“We made it happen,” Seamans said. “It is very emotional for me. It is just overwhelming, and I feel tremendous; I feel honored. I know my family does that this mission carries on and we hope to go more and more, so it just brings such a tribute not only to me and my family, but I think it’s a tribute to all the veterans here today, not just in Jacksonville but throughout the state of Florida and the country.”
Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Preston Moses remembers when the body of Private First Class Timothy Seaman came home after he was killed. Moses was friends with the soldier’s father and became a pallbearer as the coffin was unloaded at Jacksonville International Airport. He was pleased to help the elder Seamans.
“I have never traveled the road that they have traveled, when you lose a child in a war or any other way,” Moses said at the dedication. “They have taken that and turned it around into something very positive over Timmy’s death. The placement of that not only here, but at all the schools, or as many as possible, reflects to people how many young men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that we share today.”
Florida Fallen Heroes is a 17-year-old organization that wants to have a memorial at every Florida high school, Seamans said.
The first granite monument with bronze boots, rifle and helmet atop it is at Terry Parker High School in Arlington, dedicated to graduates like “Timmy” Seamans who were lost in Vietnam and Iraq. A second memorial carries the name of Ed White High School alumni Julian Woods, a Navy corpsman, and was unveiled in 2010.
There are 17 memorials now at high schools in Jacksonville and St. Augustine as well as in Clay, Nassau and Bradford counties. Another is planned for May at Andrew Jackson High School, and the one unveiled Friday is near a Purple Heart Trail monument and the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall just outside EverBank Stadium.
For more information about the Florida Fallen Heroes organization, go to floridafallenheroes.org.