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Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

NATIONAL CEMETERY AMPHITHEATER – Completion

Journey Journal, Sarasota, Florida

"OH BEAUTIFUL FOR PATRIOT DREAM"

“I think there is one higher office than president and I would call that patriot.” ~ Gary Hart

To the visionary who conceived the idea, the culmination of the Patriot Plaza must have been a dream come true.  Perhaps it was like the parental witnessing of a milestone marking a child’s passage into adulthood… complete with the sense of accomplishment, pride, and awe.  The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” certainly was true under these circumstances, though it was an amphitheater rather than a child that was raised.  

This multi-million-dollar venture that began in 2010 propagated a model of private and public partnership whereby a philanthropic organization, The Patterson Foundation, collaborated with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to achieve a goal.  Teamwork was the underlying strategy, as construction and art advisory groups, architects, construction personnel, artists, legal advisors, and others coordinated their efforts.  A dedication ceremony in June, 2014 signaled its introduction to the public.


Towering above the amphitheater pavilion, a twelve- by eighteen-foot American flag tethered to a stainless steel, eighty-foot-high pole waves in the breezes.  As a gesture of respect for all interred in the cemetery, it is lowered to half staff thirty minutes before the first committal service each day and remains in that position until thirty minutes after the last service of the day.  Typically, the number of daily burials is about eight.


Occupying a 1.83-acre area that’s larger than a football field, the plaza features dual, fifty-foot-high half ceilings in arched configurations.  


With 792 pieces of aquamarine glass comprising this 20,800-square-foot awning, the vibrant roof is a commanding feature of the burial grounds.  Each panel of glass blocks the ultra-violet rays by way of embedded translucent film, reducing the impact of the sun by fifteen to twenty degrees.  Underneath this canopy there is shade, yet the breezes are still felt, as if shrouded by the leaves of a tree.


Though fundamentally encompassing a stage that accommodates a fifty-five-piece orchestra, with seating space for twenty-eight hundred people, this attraction is far more than a performance arena.  Punctuated by a gallery of artwork, it is readily regarded also as an outdoor museum.  


Unseen, yet essential in the Florida environment, there are concrete and rebar support columns fifty-five feet below the ground to assure structural integrity sufficient to withstand Category Five hurricane-force winds.  

The northern portal serves as the main entrance.  Atop a pentagon-shaped surface of brick pavers stand four eye-catching tablets bearing  photos depicting happy moments.  


Although the section designated for an audience is behind the entrance, one could readily construe an impression that this theater of tribute actually faces the graves of those it honors.  Inspired imagery within one’s mind prompts a perception that the headstones are “standing at attention” in rapt acknowledgment of its connotation.


Two seven-foot American bald eagles representing the national emblem of the United States flank the west entrance walkway.  


Symbolic significance has been ascribed to the epic birds with conspicuously menacing eyes, conferring status as guardians – vigilant sentinels to protect people who visit Patriot Plaza along with the veterans buried in the cemetery’s sea of graves. 


At the east entry point, less formidable eagles hover over two nests – one with a parent and fledging... the other empty.  Real branches were collected, molded, and cast for this piece of art.  The birds had been sculpted in wax to create molds before being cast in bronze.  

Source:  Patterson Foundation Dedication Video

Ubiquitous hallmarks of soldiers, such as endurance and courage, are singularly defined on sixteen upright slabs of Georgia marble and glass, which feature photographs amplified by relevant text and drawings.  The eight on the east side of the pavilion encapsulate the military family experience; on the west side the focus is on military service in general.      


Photos of individuals who served in one of the Armed Forces become all the more riveting upon reading quoted commentary coupled with meditations etched on these “Testimonies” pillars.   


Single photos are also mounted on a colonnade of forty-four upright rectangular tablets aligned in military-like formation and situated around the plaza.  



Source:  Patterson Foundation Dedication Video

The pictures illustrate aspects of military life from the era of the Civil War to 2013, including campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.    


A handmade fifty- by three-foot glass mosaic spans a horizontal swath at the base of the stage.  


The colorful image depicts a landscape of earth, air, and water – in or on which all branches of the Armed Forces carry out their missions.

Source:  Patterson Foundation Dedication Video

Within the configuration of a star dominating the granite floor in front of the stage, a five-sided projection map flattened into inlaid stone depicts all seven continents, as viewed from above the North Pole.  It alludes to the wide-reaching influence of American military forces around the world.  


Twenty-foot tapered cones define both the north/south and east/west intersections of pathways.  Dubbed, “Night to Day, Here and Away,” these are covered in hand-tiled mosaics that embody displays of service ribbons amid the sky, sea, and geological imagery.  

Over 7500 plants were planted around the plaza, adding color and a suggestion of ongoing life on premises for the dead.  Young oak trees, Italian cypress, and palms mingle with magnolias, roses, lilies, myrtles, and more.  


Whether or not someone has served in a military capacity, this magnificent showpiece is breathtaking.  Besides its functionality and artistic permeation, it is a remarkable example of an accomplishment that came to fruition as a result of unified efforts among human beings.  It speaks to our ongoing quest for harmonious co-existence with no need for war.  Long ago, Abraham Lincoln implored Americans to come together in a spirit of cooperative camaraderie to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  

In spite of that aspiration, human confrontations persist.  Military forces continue to serve.  A Vietnam-era veteran has metaphorically connected a design element configured in stone pieces at the plaza with the roughness of adversarial human interactions.  Referring to the deliberately course and ragged edges of the photo-story tablets and marble benches, he has noted that they are unfinished and will never be finished.  Such is the presumably inevitable state of affairs relative to human efforts for peace on earth.  




"Honoring the Fallen," Sarasota Herald Tribune Special Section,
June 28, 2014 
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