Charlotte Sun Editorial
Three years ago, there were probably only two people who really saw the potential and had the resolve to build the William R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park. That would be Michael Gaines, brother of the Marine the park is named for, and Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch.
William R. Gaines, a Charlotte Countian, was one of 220 Marines and 21 other American military personnel killed in the bombing of their barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983.
Michael Gaines targeted Deutsch as a person who could help build a fitting memorial to those Americans killed, especially his brother. In 2017 Charlotte County commissioners signed off on renaming a small park on Edgewater Drive the William R. Gaines Memorial Park.
That was the crack in the door Michael Gaines and others needed to plan what eventually should become a draw — perhaps even a national draw — for veterans and others interested in U.S. military history and/or the 1983 tragedy in Beirut.
Gaines formed the Gaines Veterans Foundation and has used money, including his own, raised to kick start the dream. Already the foundation has paid for entrance signs for the park, a flagpole and an architectural design for a four-story tower that will represent the barracks bombed in 1983.
Last week, county commissioners got an early look at the tower’s design and came away impressed — “very impressed” to use the words of Commissioner Chris Constance.
“It will be the one location where people can go and reflect and assume the embodiment and the sentiment and get closer to that whole experience,” Constance added.
Donations to the park have been generous so far with about $400,000 in the bank as a down payment on the $3 million or so the tower will cost. Among those donating have been, according to a Betsy Calvert story in The Daily Sun, Allegiant Travel Co. and Don Gasgarth Ford.
Already a second entrance, new asphalt and green parking lots, a playground and sidewalks have been added at the park. Florida Power & Light paid for a solar parking canopy. Phase 2 of the project is nearing completion with trails built in wooded areas around the park paid for by the Department of Environmental Protection.
Phase 3 is next and that will be paid for with about $1.75 million from the 2020 sales tax initiative and will include connecting restrooms to sewers and adding bocce, pickleball and tennis courts that will be lit.
Hopes are to add a splash pad and community center in the final phase of the park, which would be down the road a few years.
The park will serve as more than a memorial but as a teaching tool to tell people what happened the day the barracks were bombed. The tower will serve as an important facet of that goal with 9-foot historical panels telling the story of the history behind the bombing.
Charlotte County is already viewed as a potential retirement mecca for U.S. veterans thanks to amenities like the Southwest Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and the Military Heritage Museum in Punta Gorda, along with the same attractions that draw other retirees like low crime, affordable homes and great weather.
The William R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park is just another reason for veterans to consider Charlotte County as a place to live, or visit. We should be proud of the project.