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Military divers deserve own DC monument, US senator says

WASHINGTON — This city known for its eclectic assortment of monuments could soon get another one: the Man in the Sea Memorial Monument, a tribute to military divers.

Congress has been asked to bless the privately funded 11-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a diver in helmet and suit, to be erected on the waterfront at the Washington Navy Yard, once the home of the Navy Diving School.

Planning has been under way for several years, but the nonprofit group pushing the project hopes to reach new depths in its $10 million fundraising drive with a congressional endorsement.

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Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a former Navy secretary, recently introduced a resolution expressing support for the project.

The project, he said, would call attention to the “often unseen and unrecognized” work of military divers. In the 1970s, for example, divers tapped into an undersea Soviet communications cable. In 1939, four divers rescued 33 men from the submarine Squalus, which had sunk in about 250 feet of water off New Hampshire; those divers later received the Medal of Honor.

Military divers also have been involved in humanitarian relief, including repairing port facilities in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

“This is a piece of the nation’s history that is missing,” said William Nucklos, the project’s Washington-based director for policy, in an interview.

A provision of a House-approved defense bill also expresses support for a memorial to honor divers whose “defense of the United States has been carried out beneath the waters of the world.”

Ken Dreger, chief executive of the nonprofit Homeland Security Policy Institute Group, said he and his business partner, a former Navy diver, came up with the idea for the monument after watching divers during a weekend fishing trip to Catalina Island. The nonprofit organization already has received some contributions, including an early one from actor Tom Hanks and his actress wife, Rita Wilson.

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©2012 Los Angeles Times

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