The company will place 67 reef balls nine miles off Big Pass in memory of lost submarine crew members.
A new type of memorial service came to Sarasota this year, but this one was not on dry land.
The Sarasota-based company Eternal Reefs, which incorporates a person’s cremated remains into artificial reef formations, created the first
undersea memorial honoring the 65 American submarines lost since 1900, along with their more than 4,000 crew members.
CEO George Frankel got the inspiration for the On Eternal Patrol Memorial after being asked to partner with a company looking to sink a submarine for a recreational fishing and diving site.
Frankel, who as a kid was fascinated with the Pacific naval efforts during World War II, thought that if a submarine was going to be placed in the water, Eternal Reefs also should place memorials for all the submarines that were lost during and after WWII.
What Frankel didn’t realize was how big of an undertaking that would be, with 65 sunken submarines. However, after meeting various WWII veterans, Frankel said he had to complete the project.
“The more involved I got, the more I just started literally being in awe of what these people were asked to do and what they accomplished,” he said.
The first six pieces of a 67-piece memorial were dedicated May 22 on the 51st anniversary of the sinking of the USS Scorpion, the last submarine to sink.
A group of 90 people took part in the dedication ceremony, which included a tolling of the boats ceremony where each of the 65 lost boats was announced, the ship’s bell sounded and a tribute reef decorated with red, white and blue flowers was dropped for each boat. The tribute reefs sank, while the flowers remained afloat.
“This reef project is a beautiful thing and a good remembrance,” said Phil Orapallo, a Lakewood Ranch resident who served aboard the Scorpion from 1962-64, in a release. “I was just a kid when she went down and the first thing I did was look on the list of missing for Mazzuchi and Bishop (chiefs of the boat) because they were like fathers to me.”
Frankel said that with the help of U.S. Coast Guard, the memorial should be complete by mid-July. When the memorial is complete, it will feature 67 reef balls — 65 for the number of sunken submarines, one for the additional crew members lost in non-sinking events and one “pinnacle reef” that recognizes the contribution of the submarine service.
Each reef ball stands three feet tall, weighs 1,300 pounds and includes a plaque identifying the lost submarine, its best-known last location and the amount of officers and crew lost. The reef balls will be organized in columns and rows, just like any above-water national cemeteries.
While the memorial isn’t finished yet, Frankel said he’s already had former submariners asking to have their remains placed around the memorial after they die.
“It’s one of those win-win-win situations,” he said. “The environment wins because it gets all this new habitat. The community wins because it gets an economic engine along with a great new fishing and diving location. The veterans win because now they’ve got an ocean-based memorial to call their own.”