The first ceremony took place on Memorial Day this year,
with 10 markers containing the ashes of veterans lowered to
the sea floor.
“The families said it was nothing short of absolutely beautiful
and wonderful,” Irrera says. “They said it was fitting, very
honorable, and very dignified. We could not have been more
pleased because of how happy the families were.”
A service member from any military branch who honorably
served is eligible for the Veterans Memorial Reef program.
The organization verifies the status by reviewing a DD214, the
document that provides proof of military service and cites any
certifications and awards granted.
The family transfers the cremated remains into an aquatic urn,
an aluminum tube sealed at both ends. The urn is placed inside a
concrete memorial marker, with an area of wet cement on top.
“Family members can use that to personalize and memorialize
their loved one,” Irrera says. “Kids, grandkids, can put hand-prints.
One lady, her husband loved to fish, and she put his lures
A service is held on land the day after the memorial is sealed.
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Full military honors are rendered for each veteran, with a flag
detail, a rifle detail if warranted, and a bugler to play taps.
The following day the memorials — each weighing about
1,200 pounds — are loaded onto a barge and taken to the site.
A second boat takes family members out. After a short memo-rial
service, each marker is lowered at a spot determined by a
representative from the Department of Marines Fisheries, who is
also on site.
“There are a couple of reasons why we did this,” Irrera says.
“Part of the rationale is it is eco-friendly. An artificial reef
attracts marine habitat and combats erosion. Also, we have four
national cemeteries in North Carolina and five state cemeteries
for veterans. They are filling up. Some aren’t accepting more
burials. This is another alternative to alleviate the strain on land
Although not as convenient as a national or state cemetery, the
Veterans Memorial Reef markers are accessible.
“Each memorial marker, there is a geographic coordinate
associated,” Irrera says. “A grandson or family member can go
fish over grandpa’s memorial, or dive on it.”
Veterans Memorial Reef offers a way to honor service members. The inaugural ceremony took place at Battleship Park in May (opposite
and above right). The following day, the memorials were loaded onto a barge and taken to a site about five miles out from Wrightsville
Beach and lowered onto an artificial reef.