The Patriot Plaza at the Sarasota National Cemetery can now hold large scale events.

Bill Schlapfer knows what it means to help his fellow Americans. He served in the Army during WWII. He’s proud of his service and the service of others who continue to fight for freedom. The improvements mean a lot to him.

“They spend a lot of years sometimes in the military. Some of them were volunteered. Some were drafted, but they all should be remembered for their services to the country,” said Schlapfer.

The Plaza includes a $12 million amphitheater with one-of-a-kind artwork. It was designed and paid for by the Patterson Foundation. Thousands attended a dedication ceremony Saturday.

“The glass structure, the art that is here tells the story of sacrifice and service of those who served, and those at home who supported them when they were gone," said Debra Jacobs, President and CEO of the Patterson Foundation.

The amphitheater will be used as a multipurpose venue. It has 2,800 shaded seats, a stage and two large screens for national holidays like Memorial and Veteran's Day.

“It’s a tremendous thing for our audience to be able to have this," said cemetery director John Rosentrater. "In Florida, we either have the heat or rain.” 

Unlike most cemeteries, Partriots Plaza is (no now) filled with art. From designs on the stage, to marble structures that line the amphitheater, there are 22 plinths and 16 tablets. Each one has different photographs that tell a different story of war.

Vietnam veteran James McSorley said he is thankful to have this national cemetery in Sarasota.

“Hopefully, it will inspire some people to continue service in the United States,” said McSorley. “When my day comes, this is where I’m going to be buried.”