BRANDON — The Civil War ended 150 years ago, but it still is dividing those who want to erect a memorial honoring those who served in the conflict.
Members of the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum Committee shared plans Wednesday night for memorials to be erected representing World War II, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Civil War memorial, though, was excluded from Wednesday’s discussion, the victim of a bitter dispute over its name and what the finished design will look like.
When the memorial was first designed in 2013, the Civil War subcommittee titled the memorial “War Between the States” instead of the “Civil War’’ memorial. The concept included a ship sitting atop a concrete structure surrounded by concrete slabs, some of which formed a pattern resembling a Maltese cross, a symbol often associated with the Confederacy.
The memorial’s concrete walls and red bricks were designed to hold engravings dedicated to Civil War veterans, said David McAllister, leader of the Tampa chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans and head of the now-defunct subcommittee for the original Civil War memorial.
The memorial was set for construction, but that changed in January, McAllister said, when executive committee members began questioning the design’s prominent confederate themes and its title.
A few months later, the design was canceled and the subcommittee dissolved.
“We’re being treated differently than other subcommittees and our monument is being treated differently than other monuments,” McAllister said.
McAllister said the Civil War memorial’s subcommittee was not given a valid reason for its dissolution. He said the subcommittee had three sound arguments supporting the monument’s original title.
“No. 1, it is more accurate than any other name,” he said. “No. 2, it is the term that is favored in the South and expected by visitors. No. 3, this name is used at the Marines monument, which is the Iwo Jima monument in Washington D.C.”
Dave Braun, chairman of the executive committee of the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum, said the Civil War’s subcommittee was given multiple reasons for its dissolution.
“First of all, there was a Maltese cross involved, which is a Sons of the Confederate Veterans Maltese cross,” Braun said. “It was the same design as the Civil War medal of honor if they had such a thing. That focused it to the South strictly.”
The Civil War memorial’s subcommittee also failed to submit a design checklist for nine months, he said.
“And three, we dissolved the name to what it should have been from the beginning — the Civil War,” Braun said. “It’s known universally; on the other side of the country, it is the Civil War. I don’t care if there’s various memorials with ‘War Between the States.’”
Braun said the executive committee has since approved a different Civil War memorial design.
The Veterans Memorial Park and Museum’s executive committee was set to read a letter from McAllister at its Wednesday afternoon meeting. Braun said executive committee members at an earlier meeting voted not to discuss it because McAllister previously had sent the group a letter threatening legal action.
“If you come up and say something off the cuff, it could be held against you,” Braun said. “So we were just advised to say nothing.”
Those in support of the original Civil War memorial design voiced their dissent after the meeting.
Phil Walters, a member of the defunct subcommittee, said the group wanted the memorial to accurately represent the deceased veterans of Hillsborough County.
“If you research that period of time, all the veterans from Hillsborough County – that were documented – are Confederate,” Walters said. “So I think that’s a point of political correctness.”
He said he does not understand the executive committee’s position.
“It started with, ‘Your design is racist;’ well who said this?” Walters said. “Military people know what an iron cross is; it’s a venerated symbol since the George Washington days. So that tells me it’s probably not military people.”
McAllister said county officials should get involved with the dispute, noting that funding for the memorials initally came from the public, but that the county then began offering financial support.
“The county should be watching what’s happening and the taxpayers should be watching what’s happening,” he said.
The executive committee has offered to return any funds provided by the original subcommittee, McAllister said, but he said its members would rather have the initial design reinstated.
“Just my gut feeling is, I think political correctness has leaked into the process,” Walters said. “Where, we don’t know; nobody will say anything. That’s just my gut feeling.”
The memorial park is on U.S. 301 on the banks of the Tampa Bypass Canal, just south of the Florida State Fairgrounds. The park’s first display, honoring veterans of the Vietnam War, was unveiled in 2011.