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HomeBusiness & CommunityGround Broken for Local World War II Memorial

Ground Broken for Local World War II Memorial

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BROOKSVILLE – On Thursday morning, the groundbreaking ceremony was officially held for the Gunnery Backstop World War II Memorial. The project will convert the concrete structure, located at the entrance to the Brooksville – Tampa Bay Regional Airport & Technology Center, into “a memorial showcasing its historic role in World War II,” according to a statement from Hernando County Government PIO Dominique Holmes.

The memorial was envisioned and spearheaded by local pilot and historian Don Etchison. It will educate visitors on its role during World War II and delve into how the concrete and sand in the mound were utilized by pilots during this era. In the release, Etchison explained:

“The structure was used to calibrate the machine guns on B-17 and B-24 Bombers. Both rare and historic, the Gunnery Backstop has a story to tell of one of the most challenging times in American history.”

Built-in November of 1942, the unassuming look of “The Bunker” is contrasted by the bullet holes that riddle the face of the concrete. The traces of 50-caliber shells left indelible marks that belie the difficult days that those men faced as they worked to stem the tide of evil.

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A plaque honoring the 33 airmen who lost their lives while training at the Brooksville Army Airfield will serve as a pivotal feature of the memorial. Alongside this will be an official historical marker as well as the explosive casing that was recently exhumed during the construction of the yet-to-be-completed Wilton Simpson Technical College.

The inert ordnance, which will have been painted and refurbished, will help the memorial serve as a focal point for those wishing to learn more about the history of the local airport and the military. Etchison, who also spoke at Thursday’s gathering, joked to the crowd of veterans, county officials, the public, and media that the bunker was once known as “the ‘Hill’ in Springhill” to some and told its story from the perspective of the Gunnery Backstop itself.

“For the longest time, I have just been a silent sentinel, just sitting here on Spring Hill Drive, waiting for this day to come where I can be memorialized and pay tribute to everything that has happened here,” said Etchison. “I look forward to the next 80 years of being a monument that is known and an iconic place in Spring Hill and Brooksville and for people to come here and know what happened here in World War II.”

The “gumption” and “sticktoitiveness” of Etchison, as noted by Hernando County Economic Development Director Valerie Pianta, helped immensely in getting the plans off the ground. His passion was so fervent that Pianta referred to the receiving of requests for time or donations from the pilot as being “Etchisoned.”

The bunker’s restoration was also coordinated by fellow local pilot and architect Ed Hoffman. Hoffman, whose father served with the Eighth Air Force in Europe, drew up the visual plans that stood in front of the structure on Thursday.

“The idea here, design-wise, is to bring you actually into the bunker,” while largely leaving the sand where it is, “because that is part of the story,” Hoffman said. “[…] It is not just an informational thing about what ‘the Hill’ of Spring Hill is, but it also becomes a memorial to those brave fellas that took on the mission of protecting our democracy.”

This is also thanks to the contributions of various local organizations, such as Coastal Engineering and Proud Pelican Construction Incorporated who donated their time and resources to the project. Though construction is now underway, more funding is still necessary to complete the memorial. Citizens looking to contribute to the project’s completion can make a tax-exempt donation at FlyBKV.com.
In a way, we have all now been “Etchisoned.”

County officials break ground on the Gunnery Backstop World War II Memorial on Thursday. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
County officials break ground on the Gunnery Backstop World War II Memorial on Thursday. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Local historian and pilot Don Etchison gestures toward a .50 caliber round, the marks of which adorn the Gunnery Backstop to this day. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Local historian and pilot Don Etchison gestures toward a .50 caliber round, the marks of which adorn the Gunnery Backstop to this day. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Local architect and pilot Ed Hoffman speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony of the World War II memorial on Thursday. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
Local architect and pilot Ed Hoffman speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony of the World War II memorial on Thursday. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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