PINELLAS PARK – Nearly two decades after leaving office, Mayor Cecil Bradbury is just as committed to his passion project – the monuments at Freedom Lake Park – now as he was then.
In his final years as mayor, Bradbury, who sat on the City Council since 1978 and served as mayor from 1981 to 1998, shifted his focus to the park. While Freedom Lake, located at 9990 46th St. N., served as a bucolic setting within a well-traveled and populous area, he knew more could be done with the property.
At the time, there was just a 20-foot-high flagpole at the park.
“With a tiny little flag on it,” Bradbury said. “No monument. No nothing. Just vacant land there.”
Today, the park is known throughout the county for its Korean War Memorial, an homage to all military branches and an F16 fighter plane display. These monuments are in place today because of Bradbury’s tireless efforts.
The first thing he did was revamp the American flag display. Utilizing his experience as a mechanical draftsman and engineer, he designed the flag’s base and created a star-shaped display with five black granite points, each representing a different branch of the military.
He brought the plan to several veterans’ organizations in the area for feedback and sponsorship. He recalls his first meeting, with the Disabled American Veterans.
“At the end of the meeting, people started handing me $5 bills, different amounts,” Bradbury said. “I said, ‘Whoa, I don’t even have a fund set up yet. I can only take this if I have a written record of who gave what.’”
Someone in attendance at the meeting immediately got to work writing down names and amounts. Even the waitress serving the dinner meeting offered him a portion of her tips for the projects.
“It meant so much to me,” he said. “It was so emotional for me.”
Once he earned enough money, the council let him build the project. Various companies donated concrete, granite and other materials for it. He found an eagle to sit at the top of the flag. He brought it to Raytheon, where he worked, and fixed the ball bearings so that the eagle would move with the wind.
“It’s the only eagle you’ll ever find that flies with its tail feathers to the wind. It’s always sitting there, moving back and forth watching over the flag,” he said.
There was room for other memorials as well. The city installed the Korean War Memorial, and Bradbury also decided that he wanted to put a fighter pilot on display. He found a U.S. Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, willing to offer the city an F16 plane.
“It was just sitting there in the boneyard,” he said.
Once again, Bradbury designed the base for the display, which is only the third static display of an F16 anywhere in the country, he said, and the only one in a private setting. The other displays are at military bases.
During the plane’s installation in 1998, he would leave work, have dinner at home and then head to the park with his motor home, where he slept overnight to keep watch over the plane.
“I wanted to make sure nobody did nothing to it,” he said. “I left early in the morning when the joggers came in, then I went back at night and did it all again. I did that for a while until the installation was done.”
The display was dedicated just days before he left office that year.
Though it took a while to convince the council to let him continue his work at Freedom Lake Park, he said, eventually he continued maintenance of landscaping around the monuments. He’s also painted several decals on the plane over the years.
His current project is designing an AM-9 Sidewinder missile to mount on the plane. He received the plans for the missiles and sketched them out. A handful of local companies, including Tru-Arc in Clearwater, have volunteered their time and materials to help him create these replica missiles and attach them to the plane. The goal, he said, is for the F16 to be as authentic as possible.
“And to be authentic, they need to have rockets on them,” he said.
He anticipates that the project will be completed this month.
This story is part of a random series of profiles on Pinellas Park people who’ve made a difference in their communities or are well known for their vocations, hobbies or other interests. The Beacon invites readers to suggest individuals for “catching up” profiles. Email trazzano@TBNweekly.com.