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History and Heritage

Where One Sailor Stands Alone

Lone Sailor Fort Lauderdale

A Sailor stands tall and strong in the heat of the South Florida sun. He seems to pause in his march along a red brick path to look out across a river. This Sailor embodies honor, courage and commitment. Standing a quiet but vital watch, this "Lone Sailor" represents all Sailors - past, present and future.

The 7-foot, 800-pound bronze statue has been guarding the New River in Fort Lauderdale since 2006, nearly 20 years after the original Lone Sailor statue was dedicated in Washington, D.C. He serves as a picturesque tribute to the strong relationship between the city of Fort Lauderdale, its people and the seas.

"This statue represents the thousands and thousands of Sailors who have worn this uniform and ... those who have paid the supreme sacrifice," said retired Senior Chief Petty Officer Alan Starr.

For those who have donned the uniform and sacrificed their personal freedoms for this country, this statue, as well as 13 similar statues standing watch around the country, holds an emblematic meaning as well.

This is our history. This is our culture. This is who we are. Wearing this uniform here in downtown Fort Lauderdale may look a little out of place, because it's always warm here, but this is what a Sailor looks like. Wearing a pea coat for most of my life - this is me." - Alan Starr

After serving in the Navy as a cryptologic technician from the beginning of Vietnam until Desert Storm, Starr found himself at a naval communications station in Homestead, Florida, toward the end of his Navy career. Starr retired in Fort Lauderdale shortly after the base was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1991, and decided to immerse himself into the community.

"I felt like I had a lot to give back from my Navy experience," said Starr, who became commander-in-charge of the Fort Lauderdale Sea Cadet Division in 1995. "In my heart of hearts, I believe that I am training the leaders of tomorrow."

Many of Starr's sea cadets have gone on to attend the United States Naval Academy, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, carrying on the proud sea service tradition he instilled in them.

In fact, that tradition dates to before Starr's service. Although Fort Lauderdale is best known for its beaches and year-round sunshine, it has a naval tradition that dates to World War II.

As one of 257 air stations during World War II, Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale made a significant impact on South Florida and the United States in general. The base was initially used for overhauling civil airliners for the military before they were shipped across the South Atlantic to Europe and then North Africa. It later became a main training station for naval aviators and enlisted aircrewmen assigned to aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields ashore. In 1946, the Navy decommissioned the base and returned it to the city for use as a civilian airport.
Photo collage of the Lone Sailor and Fort Lauderdale's beach.

Those roots still run deep. Many retired Navy personnel have chosen South Florida as their home and have continued to carry on the proud Navy tradition.

A devoted group of volunteers from the Navy League of the United States, Fort Lauderdale Council also spent four years raising funds to bring this patriotic statue to Florida, which culminated in a dedication ceremony attended by more than 800 people almost 11 years ago.

"It's a way for us to show appreciation for the military and their families, what they do to protect our lives, our country," said Patricia DuMont, national vice president of the Navy League, "so they're very important to us, and it's our way of saying thank you and reminding people how the military supports the lifestyle and freedom we all have and enjoy."

That's a debt Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler keenly feels. Although he never served in the military, he has a great admiration for the sacrifices service members make for the country on a daily basis.

"The Lone Sailor statue means a lot to this community," he said. "It serves as a reminder of our history, of our close ties to the military, and I think it serves as a reminder that we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to a lot of Sailors that have gone before us that allow us to have this great quality of life."

Fort Lauderdale continues to honor the Navy and sea services by holding Fleet Week each year to solidify the bond between the city and visiting Sailors. This year's celebration is scheduled for May 1 to 7. Residents and tourists will have an opportunity to explore some five Navy ships and honor more than 1,200 crew members from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard - all under the watchful gaze of the Lone Sailor, who remains always vigilant, always ready.

"This town just opens up its doors, our arms, our hearts to the Navy," said Seiler. "They will have a chance to see the city's appreciation for them, the city's admiration for them." The statue, he continued, is an extension of that.

"That Lone Sailor ... it's never alone. It's never lonely for a Sailor here in Fort Lauderdale," Seiler said. "This is a place they can call home."