By Kendall McGee | March 10, 2021 at 6:51 PM EST – Updated March 10 at 7:21 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A local nonprofit has come up with a unique way to honor veterans after they pass away.
This spring, a 160 acre Veterans Memorial Reef will be established in the water five miles off the coast of Carolina Beach. Families will be able to sink their veteran’s ashes in an Eco-friendly cement pod.
The spot is known as “Five Mile Box Cars” by local fishermen, and the group hopes to change the name of the parcel from AR-372 to “VMR” for “Veterans Memorial Reef.”
The goal is to pay tribute to the men and women who served their country and give them a resting place that also creates a habitat for fish and helps preserve the ecosystem.
Kimberly Mueller lost her husband, Mark, this December. He served in the Navy and moved to Wilmington after his service where he became well known in the community as the co-owner of Waterline Brewery.
“I think when somebody you love dies, you try and find anything that feels like them in any way, to honor them, that really just speaks of them,” explained Mueller.
Mark’s love for nature is what led Kimberly to contact the team over Veterans Memorial Reef.
The option comes about as many military cemeteries are filling up. Four of the seven military burial sites in North Carolina are either full or closed, including the sites in Wilmington.
The nonprofit’s founder, Thomas Marcinowski, is a veteran himself and works for the VA. Through caring for his patients, he learned many other veterans worry about their end of life plans.
“With loss of space for veterans, we’re trying to provide another avenue, and they can’t always afford the average cost of cemeteries. Grave-sites with viewing is on average about $8,000,” said Marcinowski.
The cost to honor relatives at the reef is half that, and the organization is also building a fund for companies or individuals to sponsor veterans that can’t afford a funeral.
“Veterans have led the country in a lot of ways and those who’ve never served don’t realize that when you raise your hand you’re ready to give your life. And to remember those who have done that and those who have given their life — it’s very important to educate those for future generations,” said Marcinowski.
Each veteran will have a plaque made that will be affixed to the cement marker and sunk in the reef, and have a write up on their website sharing their medals and accomplishments, preserving their stories for generations to come. The nonprofit will drop their first markers at sea this Memorial Day weekend.
It’s a date that will bring life full circle for Mueller; Kimberly and Mark were married on Memorial Day in 2010.
“I feel like this just keeps his memory alive and it’s one of the most important things to me is keeping his memory alive and knowing that people remember him, and love him, and everything he stood for,” said Mueller.
Each memorial marker will be positioned so it faces the east, so the sun always rises on their final resting place.
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