Veterans Council rejects monument relocation

Vets reject Confederate monument
The voting members of the Manatee County Veterans Council cast their opposition votes. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON – The Manatee County Veterans Council opposes a Confederate monument being relocated to Veterans Park, near the Bradenton Riverwalk.

The 16-1 opposition vote took place Thursday, Oct. 19, at American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24 in Bradenton.

Before being removed in August, the displaced memorial monument stood for nearly a century in the courtyard square. That square is shared by the Manatee County Clerk of the Court’s office and the Manatee County Judicial Center in downtown Bradenton.

“We’re not in position to approve it or disapprove it, but we’re going to tell the commissioners what we want and don’t want,” Veterans Council Chair Carl Hunsinger said before the council members voted.

“If there’s a legal decision made and we don’t have a choice, then we’ll have to come up with another plan as to where we’re going to have our Veterans Park located – and maybe that statue will stand by itself.” – Carl Hunsinger, Veterans Council

The Manatee County Veterans Council represents more than 40,000 veterans in and around the county. Member organizations include local American Legion, VFW and AMVETS posts and other veteran-affiliated groups.

“There doesn’t need to be any more discussion. We talked about it last month,” Hunsinger said before calling for the vote.

The monument relocation was debated at the council’s previous meeting. An informal straw poll indicated 48 attendees opposed the Veterans Park location and four or five supported it. Council members were then asked to solicit official consensus from their respective groups prior to a formal vote on the 19th. Members were also asked to return with proposed alternative locations.

“The board of county commissioners could say you don’t have the authority to make that decision, but they’ve given us the opportunity to give them our recommendation,” Hunsinger told the voting members.

Peggy Van Gemert, from the Sarasota Manatee Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, suggested the 1850 Old Manatee Burying Grounds on 15th Street in Bradenton.

Representing the VFW Auxiliary in Ellenton, Theresa Cobb recommended the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton; a move that would require state approval.

After the votes were cast, Hunsinger said, “We do not accept the monument for our Veterans Park and that’s what we’re going to tell our Board of County Commissioners.”

Hunsinger said a letter would be drafted stating the council’s position and sent to the county commission.

A monumental decision

The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the memorial monument in 1924 and it became the subject of local debate in August after a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. resulted in one death and several violent conflicts.

Confederate Memorial at Manatee County Courthouse H1 082317 JH
The Confederate memorial stood in front of the Manatee County Historic Courthouse. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

On Aug. 21, a protest took place near the monument that had been shrouded in plywood for protective purposes.

On Aug. 22, Manatee County Commissioners voted to remove the monument due to public safety concerns; at that time, Veterans Park and Gamble Plantation were mentioned as possible alternate locations. No date was disclosed for the dismantling.

Overnight on Aug. 24, the work crew removing the granite monument dropped it and fractured it into two or three large pieces. The monument is now stored in an undisclosed location and the plan is to repair and reassemble it on site at its new location, wherever that may be.

Hunsinger’s take

When interviewed prior to the Oct. 19 meeting, Hunsinger said, “The concern is our Veterans Park has been set aside for veterans that raised their right hand in defense of these United States and its Constitution. It’s for veterans who served under the United States of America. The Confederacy was another country, or another government. All those soldiers fought for that country after they seceded,” Hunsinger said.

Vets Council chair Carl Hunsinger
Veterans Council chair Carl Hunsinger addressed member voters before the monument vote took place. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Veterans Park honors those who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, but no conflicts in the 1800s.

“We’re not going to protest. We’re not going to be distractive. If we say it doesn’t go in our park and the Board of County Commissioners says it should, then we’re going to use legal means to back our decision. If there’s a legal decision made and we don’t have a choice, then we’ll have to come up with another plan as to where we’re going to have our Veterans Park located – and maybe that statue will stand by itself,” Hunsinger said.