Every year, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Convention honors recipients of the Purple Heart Medal and their families and Sea Tow is fortunate enough to be involved. This past August, the event was held in Norfolk, VA, an area steeped in military history and home to the first Purple Heart Medal ever issued.
While this tradition is in its 84th year, there was something new this year courtesy of Sea Tow New Orleans (STNO) and Sea Tow Hampton Roads (STHR), the host chapter. The two Sea Tow franchises partnered to create a Mardi Gras-themed event that followed the memorial service.
Capt. Christian Orfanello, owner of STNO, sought a way to give back to these servicemen and women in a unique way. He decided to bring a bit of his hometown (New Orleans) to the convention. Capt. Orfanello and his fiancée, Colleen Oltmann, threw beads and cups along with Sea Tow goodies to those attending the event. They organized a dance contest with prizes donated by STNO and STHR. They served Hurricanes from the infamous bar Pat O’Brien’s, and set up a photo booth.
“We wanted to give back to these guys who have given us so much and we did it with a lot of fun,” Capt. Orfanello said. He added that the local Sea Tow host franchise owners Captain Ed and Karen Schrader of STHR were eager to get involved as well. “They jumped at the chance to help. They asked, ‘what can we do?’”
While the Mardi Gras party was intended to raise spirits, much of the initial event was somber and touching. During the convention, a special table was set up to honor those who never returned from war. This table, also called the Missing Man Table, remained empty to symbolize those who won’t ever join them for a meal again. Each part of the table is set up in a way that represents their service, their sacrifice and the loved ones who continue to await their return. It’s considered a beautiful symbolic reference.
Capt. Orfanello added that this was the first time Sea Tow had a physical presence at the event, but they aren’t going to stop. Next year, the convention is in Dallas, so they plan to attend again.
“It brought an amazing sense of joy and patriotism to us knowing we could be a part of this incredible event,” Capt. Orfanello said.
“We’re going to do this every year. It’s just our way of giving back to those who have given so, so much,” Colleen Oltmann said. “It’s a small gesture what we’re doing, but the smiles that come across their face are worth it.”