We are Veterans Memorial Reef – Veterans Serving Veterans
Veterans Memorial Reef is a non-profit veteran organization that honors fallen heroes by placing them in a unique aquatic memorial so they may be laid to rest at sea. First, their remains transferred to an aquatic urn which is sealed in a concrete memorial marker. The memorial marker is lowered to the seafloor to become an artificial reef.
Our reef is located off the coast of Carolina and Wrightsville Beach, NC. Through this commemoration, we can honor their passing while sustaining marine life and helping to ensure the integrity of our coastline.
Our mission is to recognize those who have honorably served in the US Armed Forces. We memorialize their passing through commemoration and also emphasize education of both the US military (past, present, or future) history and our marine ecosystem. This technology will help to preserve, rehabilitate, and protect our natural ocean reef ecosystems by integrating the artificial Memorial Marker to reef technologies.
Veterans Memorial Reef is a 501(c) 3 publicly supported non-profit veteran-operated organization. We strive to honor our fallen heroes through memorial services with the following goals in mind.
- We aim to recognize every veteran who served honorably in the United States Military.
- Honor each and every veteran and, via their DD214, recognize awards and decorations they received.
- Teach the general public the meaning of the awards that military personnel receive.
- Share the reason and importance on why the veteran received the award.
- Partner with Institutions of Higher Learning to use the Veteran Memorial Reef sites to track areas of marine biology to continue the preservation and encourage future growth of marine life.
- Provide surfaces for reef spores to attach and grow.
- Expand reef growth to increase oxygen levels.
- Reef memorials provide areas for fish to breed and hide from predators.
- Improve areas for recreational fishing and scuba diving.
A few years ago, while reading National Geographic, Thomas Marcinowski saw an article about the underwater city of Atlantis memorial. The concept consisted of people scattering remains while scuba diving or placing memorial stones to form reefs to honor people who recently passed away.
Seizing upon this idea, he decided this would be an excellent way to honor recently deceased veterans. And thus, the idea for Veterans Memorial Reef was born. Thomas collaborated with friends Joe Irrera and Alex Cupernall to make this idea a reality.
Thomas Marcinowski, CEO
Thomas Marcinowski Jr. joined the US Air Force in 1987 as a medic, serving on Active Duty during Desert Storm, Operation Provide Comfort, and Provide Hope. He transferred from Active Duty to the Air Force Reserves to attend East Carolina University while flying around the world as an Aeromedical Evacuation Medic.
Upon graduation, he went on to earn his degree as a Physician Assistant and joined the North Carolina Army National Guard. He was activated in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving in a combat area with the Infantry as the Battalion Aid Surgeon.
He completed the US Army Flight Surgeon Course and finished his career as the NC deputy state flight surgeon in 2012.
Thomas left practicing medicine in the civilian sector to join the VA to continue serving and providing medical care to his fellow veterans. He remains active in the community. He serves as Vice President of another non-profit organization, keepthebeatalive.org, and volunteers in school and Boy Scout fundraisers.
Joe Irrera, President
Joe Irrera joined the Veterans Memorial Reef board of directors and was named chairman in June 2019. After earning his bachelor’s degree at UNCW, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Joe later obtained a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. Joe served as an Artillery Officer for 10 years and then as an Intelligence Officer for the next 20 years. He retired as a Marine Colonel in 2014 after 30 years of military service. His military service has taken him around the globe, including two tours of duty in Iraq and a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
In addition to his military background, Joe has extensive experience in the private sector. For over 20 years, he provided sales, operations, training, marketing, and management expertise to companies such as PPD, Chiltern, and Novartis. He has also provided training, operations, and management to individuals and companies in the defense industry. Additionally, Joe has taught numerous master’s degree program courses to others.
Joe is active in civic and veteran organizations such as The Azalea Festival, The Marine Corps League, American Legion, VFW, Military Officers Association of America, and other New Hanover County community organizations.
Joe graduated from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the U.S. Army Ranger School. He is authorized to wear the Navy-Marine Corps Parachutist Insignia and permanent wear of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge.
Alex Cupernall, Vice President
Alex Cupernall participated in the early stages of Veterans Memorial Reef while it was still a dream. He and Thomas would discuss thoughts and ideas on how to go about creating the organization. Alex has served as the Vice-Chairman since July 2019. Being a dependent of a father of a US Marine led to staying in the family business. Alex renounced his dual citizenship from the Netherlands to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1998 as an Infantryman. He was in the first wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving 8 years in the Marine Corps.
After an Honorable discharge from the Marine Corps and missing his brothers and sisters in arms, Alex went to work for Veterans Health Affairs. He served as the Health Benefits Advisor assisting veterans in enrolling into the VA healthcare system. In December 2020, he transferred to the Veterans Benefits division of the VA as the Legal Administrative/Public Contact Representative to assist veterans and family members in ensuring they receive guidance and assistance.
Alex is a single dad of twin girls, Alicia and Alexis, and sons, Alex Jr and Nate. He served as a coach for his daughters’ softball team and assisted as a football coach for his sons. Alex is an active member of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association 15-4.
Dr. Henry Pierpan, Board Member
Dr. Henry Pierpan joined the Veterans Memorial Reef board of directors in June 2019. After earning his bachelor’s degree from St. Anselm College, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. He attended the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry and earned the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. Later, he obtained a Master’s in Business Administration from UNCW’s Cameron School of Business. In 1994, he transferred his commission to the United States Navy Reserve and retired in 2019 as a Naval Captain with 30 years of Commissioned Service.
His military career had taken him around the globe serving in many roles, most notably as Senior Dental Executive for OHSU Camp Lejeune, NC and OHSU Jacksonville, FL, and as Reserve Force Dental Officer MARFORPAC, Camp Smith, HI.
Henry and his wife Monica own two multi-doctor dental practices in Hampstead and Jacksonville, NC. He serves on multiple boards and is a founding member of the multi-million dollar Hampstead Kiwanis Park Project. He is active in numerous civic and veteran organizations. Henry is married to his wife Monica and has two sons, Reid and Landon.
Kelly Stewart, Board Member
Timothy Bailey, Board Member
Timothy “Tim” Bailey joined the Veterans Memorial Reef board of directors in 2019. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1984 from St. Joseph’s College in Maine, Tim was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. He later obtained a master’s degree in Government and Politics from St. John’s University in 1991. Tim served as an Artillery Officer for 10 years and then as an Intelligence Officer for the next 20 years. He retired as a Marine Colonel in 2014 after 30+ years of military service. His military service took him around the globe, including two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Tim earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law in 1999. He served as a prosecutor in Rockingham County, NH, for six years. He also served as an attorney advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, Office of General Counsel – Intelligence Law Division for three years. Tim currently serves as the Regional Director for the New England Field Operations Division, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Homeland Security. In 2015, he received a Certificate in Leadership and Management of the Intelligence Community from National Intelligence University.