Monument Park began as the idea of a Virginia Beach police officer, Captain Dennis Free, who wanted to acknowledge and honor the Navy’s connection to Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads region. He and the Hampton Roads Squadron of the Association of Naval Aviation (HRANA) joined forces to start raising funds for the project in 1997, and the park was finally opened and dedicated in 2006.
RADM Fred Metz (Ret), Commanding Officer of HRANA drove the project with a vision for the story that should be told, the location where it should be located, and the contacts to get it approved. Once the property was acquired, “the story” was further developed. It was to illustrate, in a verbal, textural and sculptural manner, the absolute wealth of the history of Naval Aviation in Hampton Roads. Five (5) basic platforms were identified:
- Eugene Ely: The first (naval) aviator to fly an airplane off of a ship and the first Naval Aviator.
- WWII Era: Most naval aviators who fought in WWII spent some time training in Hampton Roads.
- Modern Era: Hampton Roads is home to the largest quantity of Naval Aviation assets in the world.
- Aircraft Carriers: The majority of all aircraft carriers were either constructed in Hampton Roads or were stationed here at one time or another.
- “The Homecoming”: This is the most touching part of the park. It depicts a naval aviator (still in his flight suit), just returning from an extended tour, as his wife (holding a small child) and his daughter are running to his arms welcoming him home.
In all, there are nine (9) bronze statues, all 150% sized (most are 8’ tall), on five (5) large granite bases. On the granite bases, storyboards with laser etched photographs and historical listings tell the story of the specific era’s being depicted. The selected materials as well as the programmed maintenance schedules were specifically selected and funded to ensure that the project continues to be a pleasant and educational experience for decades. The laser etching process, all on absolute black granite, was accomplished with the addition of a whitening process that emphasizes gray scales, therefore photographs, (old and new) and historical statements, could be amazingly incorporated such that they are clearly visible in all lights and weather conditions (rain). Because of the wealth of historical information about Naval Aviation, the project has become a destination point for scavenger hunter groups worldwide and continues to be a “place you have to see” while in Virginia Beach.
The property was previously functioning as a grassed City park and was acquired from the City by the Association of Naval Aviation. It was completely constructed using no public funds. We are especially proud to note that we assembled a team that did all of the design work pro bono and construction was completed at cost.