By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and a couple in Wabasha County is honoring veterans in a one-of-a-kind way.

Dave and Shelly Speedling are part of the first-ever underwater war memorial. They’ve created military statues that are now on display about 9 miles off the coast of Florida.

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In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Kellogg to show us how it all got started.

“Lions, bears, deer, all of that. This is my life. I love what I’m doing and I’m up here quite a bit,” said Dave Speedling. It’s a scenic drive along Highway 42 in Wabasha County. It gets even more scenic when you drive by the Speedling place. Their monuments and statues are literally lined up like soldiers. Not bad considering this all began 23 years ago with plant hangers.

“Slowly we put out three heart-shaped plant hangers. Then six heart-shaped plant hangers. People started coming,” said Shelly Speedling. “It just grew. It grew over time. It grew into this.” From tiny gremlins to 1,800 pound bears, their talents took shape.

They now make over 3,000 items by hand. First they mix, then they mold, then they paint. Word of what they were doing spread to a group of people in Florida who had an unusual request. They wanted to make a veterans memorial 40 feet below the surface.

“We are used to combines and tractors here. Their world is scuba diving,” said Shelly. Half of the staff that works for the Speedlings are veterans, which made this request even more special. For each phase of the underwater project they’ve added something new.

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The latest is a memorial for William R. Flores. “The ship he was on, the Blackthorn, was sinking. He stayed on board and threw life jackets out to other people. In return, unfortunately, he lost his life,” said Shelly.

The Flores statue will soon join 12 other statues about nine miles off the Florida coast as part of the Circle of Heroes Veterans Memorial. The statues represent the five branches of the U.S. Military.

“What we’ve been told is when somebody goes down there, a veteran, it’s tranquil. It’s very peaceful,” said Shelly. It also lasts forever. Whether it’s the middle of a park or the bottom of a Gulf, the Speedlings are honored to keep military memories standing tall.

“To know that something we’ve created in the tiny town of Kellogg is at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And we’ve heard from different divers of what it means to them,” said Shelly. “We are just a small part of something really huge.”

There will be a dedication to the William Flores memorial in January near Clearwater, Florida.

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For more information on the Circle of Heroes Veterans Memorial, or what the Speedlings are doing in Kellogg, click here and here. 

John Lauritsen