Mayor signs bill, turns Cecil Field memorial site over to nonprofit

Mayor signs bill, turns Cecil Field memorial site over to nonprofit
Mayor Lenny Curry signs bill, flanked by Cecil Field POW/MIA Memorial, Inc. Communications Director John Sutherland, a retired U.S. Navy commander; Ed Callao, retired U.S. Navy commander; Padraic Mulvihill of the Rotary Club of North Jacksonville; Dale Moe, retired National Guard chief petty officer; Doug Register of North Jacksonville Rotary Club; Captain Sam Houston, former U.S. Navy commanding officer at Cecil Field; Mike Cassata, Cecil Field POW/MIA Memorial, Inc. executive director; District 2 Councilman Al Ferraro; District 12 Councilman Doyle Carter; Chaplain Pat Archuleta, retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant, and District 3 Councilman Aaron Bowman, a retired U.S. Navy captain

Twelve weeks after its introduction and just eight weeks after Jacksonville’s City Council approved the bill, Mayor Lenny Curry executed a lease agree-
ment Aug. 23 with POW/MIA Memorial Inc. to establish a memorial at Cecil Field to honor POW/MIA service men and women.

The bill, which was jointly sponsored by District 14 Councilman Jim Love and District 12 Councilman Doyle Carter, created a lease for the existing memorial areas, chapel, and theatre so the POW/MIA Memorial can be renovated and maintained at 6112 New World Avenue on the Westside.

Under the agreement the length of the contract is for five years with one 20-year renewal option. POW/MIA Memorial will pay an annual lease fee of $1.00 for the first five years, then $2,400 per year for common area maintenance costs.

Florida is home to over 1.5 million veterans with over one million of those veterans of the Desert Storm (Gulf War) and Vietnam War. Northeast Florida (Duval, Clay, and St. Johns Counties) is home to over 150,000 veterans, making Jacksonville a key location for this Memorial and Center, according to the nonprofit, which also rolled out a strategic plan for development and use of the site.

Sam Houston, Commanding Officer of NAS Cecil Field from 1992-1994, is the board chair of POW/MIA Memorial, Inc. and its executive director is Michael Cassata.

Their plan has support from U.S. Senators John McCain, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as U.S. Congressmen John Rutherford (FL-District 4) and Al Lawson (FL-District 5).

Named after Commander Henry Barton Cecil, who died in 1933 in a crash of the USS Akron, a helium-filled rigid airship, field operations began at Naval Air Station Cecil Field in December 1941, 11 days after Pearl Harbor was bombed. It served as the principal training center for pilot combat training and was a pilot’s last stop before assignment to the Atlantic Fleet or Pacific Fleet during World War II.  Later, airmen trained at NAS Cecil Field were sent to Korea, Vietnam, the Pacific Rim and Desert Storm.

In 1974, Families of Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) dedicated the POW/MIA Memorial to honor those lost to war and ensure they were never forgotten. The site consists of markers and associated planted trees for each of the 16 POW/MIA pilots, a pavilion, a stage area, starburst (metal display of aircraft), and a granite base seal of NAS Cecil Field. 

The future plans call for renaming a chapel on the site “Chapel of the High-Speed Pass” and offering it for memorial services, ceremonies and weddings; enhancing and expanding the park and amphitheater, and establishing a new center to include interactive exhibits, videos, artifacts, memorabilia, youth programs, STEAM outreach and static displays.

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