An instant national treasure for veterans: Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery

July 1, 2014 

The Patterson Foundation deserves this community's very special thanks for honoring veterans and their families with a generous and precious gift -- one unique in the nation.

This past weekend's dedication of Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery showcased a $12 million covered amphitheater graced with art and images that honor the service and sacrifice of military veterans.

The 2,800-seat pavilion stands alone among the country's 131 national cemeteries, a model for other communities to follow.

Nowhere else can boast such a public gathering place, one designed to "honor veterans, inspire patriotism and celebrate freedom," as Herald reporter James A. Jones Jr. wrote in covering Saturday's dedication ceremony.

The Patterson Foundation's $12 million investment -- plus an endowment for maintenance -- is a remarkable commitment to honoring the military. The family foundation's devotion to the men and women who serve in uniform comes with little surprise given its heritage.

The family boasts a long line of service to country. Col. Robert McCormick and Capt. Joseph Medill Patterson served in U.S. armed forces during World War I. In 1944, James J. Patterson graduated from West Point and earned the rank of captain in the U.S. Army. In 1997, five years after James J. Patterson's death, his widow, Dorothy Clarke Patterson, created The Patterson Foundation.

Today, Patriot Plaza stands as a monument to the family's service to country.

Community appreciation for the architecturally dramatic amphitheater reverberated throughout the dedication with strong emotions from the full house -- tearful at times.

A translucent light-green glass cover provides shade and blocks ultraviolet rays. The massive 20,800-square-foot cover contains 792 panels in an appealing swirling design.

A site map points out the $2 million in artwork commissioned by the Patterson Foundation. Twenty-two white marble plinths hold specially selected photographs of generations of soldiers dating back to the Civil War. Sixteen marble tablets carry engravings and glass-printed photographs. Bronzed eagles flank the west entrance.

The 48,000 square feet of walkways and gathering areas provide plenty of space for reflection and appreciation of military service.

The more than 100,000 veterans and their families who reside in Southwest Florida and all citizens now have a stately and reverential amphitheater to honor our men and women in uniform past and present.

The emotional power of the dedication ceremony and site can best be summed up by Joan Moran, whose Korean War veteran husband, Gil Moran, is interred at Sarasota National Cemetery. As Jones reported, she stated what must have been a common reaction:

"I couldn't stop the tears. I am so proud of the patriotism in this area and in this state."

Our thanks to the Patterson Foundation for Patriot Plaza and for fostering an array of programs in support of veterans.

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