By LISA STARK
Published May 26, 2016
Every month, Apollo Beach resident and Army veteran Gene Mosco takes a 40-minute drive to the countryside of Sarasota to pay tribute to his beloved wife of 57 years, Nancy, who passed away in March 2014.
“I always take her flowers and give her a kiss before I leave,” said Mosco, who finds personal peace and solace at beautiful Patriot Plaza, located in the heart of the 295-acre Sarasota National Cemetery.
From sunrise to sunset, visitors can remember their loved ones and reflect on the service and sacrifice of U.S. military veterans at this truly magnificent memorial facility. Designed, built and constructed within Sarasota National Cemetery and funded by The Patterson Foundation, Patriot Plaza is a place where honor and patriotism are clearly at the forefront.
“I like sitting here alone with my thoughts and memories,” said Mosco, gazing appreciatively around the 2,800-seat ceremonial amphitheater adorned with art and historical memorabilia on nearly every surface of its structure. “Just the beauty of this place brings comfort to me.”
The art installations at Patriot Plaza are nothing short of inspiring. Stories of service and sacrifice are captured in carved stone, while stately bronze eagles, our national symbol for courage and loyalty, guard the entrances. Twin 20-foot spires of hand-cut mosaics stretch toward the sky, while compelling photographs of men and women who have served throughout history are displayed on 16 white Georgia marble tablets, flanked by marble benches where visitors can rest and ponder their heritage.
In Witness to Mission, created by artist Larry Kirkland, 49 photographs depict military life through the experiences of ordinary people — soldiers, sailors, wives and children — each of whom sacrificed for our country. Mounted on 22 rectangular slabs and spanning U.S. history from the Civil War through Iraq, the artwork embodies our American legacy.
The stage is a focal point for Patriot Plaza. The 50-foot-by-30-foot glass-and-tile mosaic on the front of the stage, created by Ellen Driscoll, depicts a landscape of Earth, Air, and Water in which all five branches of the military carry out their missions around the world.
The worldwide reach of the military is also depicted in the granite Star Projection Map positioned in the center of Patriot Plaza, a powerful visual centerpiece to the architectural structure.
Patriot Plaza is the result of an unprecedented partnership between a private foundation (The Patterson Foundation) and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, a pairing never before attempted on a project of this complexity.
Dorothy Patterson, widow of James Patterson, created the Patterson Foundation in 1997. James was the great-grandson of Joseph Medill, who in 1855 bought the failing Chicago Tribune and supported Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign. It was Lincoln who authorized the purchase of land for the first national cemetery. An excerpt from Lincoln’s inaugural address is featured on the wall of Patriot Plaza’s east entrance, among the bronze branches of Ann Hirch’s sculpture, Home.
The Patterson Foundation sought to offer places of peace and reflection for military members and their families at Sarasota National Cemetery; thus, Patriot Plaza was born. Enlisting the expertise of art consultant Ann Wykell plus an art advisory group of local and regional professionals, the vision of Patriot Plaza was realized in 2012, culminating in its community dedication in 2014.
Patriot Plaza has been the venue for a wide variety of activities since its inception, including the June 28, 2014, Community Dedication of the Plaza, featuring the West Point Band and an inspiring keynote address by Army combat veteran and New York Times bestselling author Wes Moore.
All events at Patriot Plaza are coordinated through the Sarasota National Cemetery Director. If you are interested in planning an event or would like more information, call 941-922-7200 or visit patriotplaza.thepattersonfoundation.org.