CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) – Monday morning, eight families boarded a charter boat in Carolina Beach to see their loved ones entering their final resting place.
It’s the Veterans Memorial Reef’s second year of offering families a unique way to honor their fallen veterans. This year, eight veterans were laid to rest about five miles off the coast of Carolina Beach at the bottom of the ocean.
The at-sea ceremony started with a poem reading before families watched the memorial markers dropped into the ocean one by one. Families then released flowers and a wreath as a final goodbye. It was a chance for closure, but also, a chance for new life.
“That will help with fish habitat,” said Joe Irrera, president of Veterans Memorial Reef. “Just near-shore fish, being able to provide them with shelter, increased foods. Also, again, it is an artificial reef so it helps a lot with erosion.”
For the Heiser family, the ceremony meant so much more.
“He served his country with honor and dignity and conducted himself in life in that manner as well,” said Jean Heiser as she remembered her late brother, Cpl. Shawn Heiser. “Being a part of this with these families going through the same thing as well — it was a pretty cool experience.”
Not only did Cpl. Heiser get the honors he deserved, but his legacy now gets to continue.
“He loved the water,” said Matt Heiser, the veteran’s brother. “It was a fundamental part of his training in the Marine Corps and he spent most of his life around water, near water.
The families were given the coordinates to their loved one’s resting place. That way, they can see how their brother is still serving his country.
“The families can actually, in the future, either dive on the site, fish on the site,” said Irrera. ”Whether it be a grandchild, or a child or a spouse, they can actually just pass over the site and visit their loved one.”
It’s only the second year the organization has offered this to families of fallen veterans but they hope to continue giving other families the same closure and help the Carolina coastline in the process.
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