Photo: Patriot Plaza guides at the 10th Anniversary

Patriot Plaza: There Is No Place Like Home

Posted on March 04, 2024 by Dava Guerin, Author

Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Dava Guerin, author of nine books primarily about veterans, wounded warriors, and their families and volunteer at Sarasota National Cemetery—courtesy of Sarasota Herald Tribune.

 

If you had asked me one year ago if I would become a volunteer tour guide at Patriot Plaza, I would probably have said I was just too busy. After all, I am a full-time author, have two rescue dogs, and have tons of responsibilities on the home front. And yet, when I sat mesmerized beneath Patriot Plaza’s majestic amphitheater after the interment of my parents and husband at Sarasota National Cemetery, I knew this space would soon become “Home.”

For those of you who have not visited Patriot Plaza, I want to share the significance of this serene place of reflection and inspiration. It is not a memorial for our nation’s military members or the 33,000 heroes buried or interred there. Instead, it is filled with an impressive collection of curated artwork, each piece telling the story of the military experience with all of its challenges and glories from the Civil War to the present day. As its mission states, Patriot Plaza’s goal is to “honor service, inspire patriotism, and embrace freedom.”

As I sat contemplating the meaning of the colorful mosaic by the artist Ellen Driscoll, “Night to Day, Here and Away,” which covers the length of the amphitheater stage, I had a feeling it symbolized more than I realized. At that moment, I knew I wanted to know more.

Fortunately for me, I met a retired U.S. Army Colonel, Linda Gould. As a consultant for The Patterson Foundation—the organization that spearheaded the creation of Patriot Plaza and fully funded the construction and perpetual care of this gift donated to the National Cemetery Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs—Gould encouraged me to become an official tour guide. So, after a month or two of training, I conducted my first official tour. It literally changed my life.

You might wonder why after I had written nine books, many of which were about veterans, wounded warriors, and their families. I thought there was not much more I could learn about military life. After conducting hundreds of interviews and spending many months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as well as my father and husband serving in the Army Air Corps and the Coast Guard, respectively, I was certain I had heard it all. That could not have been further from the truth.

During that first day as a Patriot Plaza tour guide, I led a group of older adults and a young family from Indiana who was visiting their loved one recently buried at Sarasota National Cemetery. As we began our tour at the East side of the venue referred to as “Home,” with a bronze sculpture by artist Ann Hirsch that depicts an eagle and eaglet, with the parent mantling its young, one of the participants whispered in my ear, “My grandson never made it home.” I put my arm around her; I felt her pain.

But among the emotional reactions of some of the people who take part in the public tours—which we host every Tuesday year-round at 10:00 a.m.—there are also moments of joy and reflection. Often, those who were not in the military are struck by the collection of historical photographs called “Testimonies” and “Witness to Mission.”

Recently, I met a young woman from New Jersey whose father was buried the day before. She was distraught, knowing she would be leaving him the next day. I gave her a hug and said, “Your dad is forever among our nation’s heroes.”

That is why I am honored to be a tour guide at Patriot Plaza.



Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.