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Korean War veteran takes dive to underwater "Christ of the Deep" statue

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May 18, 2013: Gabe Spataro, 80, sees the Christ of the Abyss statue for the first time in its final resting spot in the waters off Key Largo. (AP/Miami Herald)

Korean War veteran Gabe Spataro's recent dive to an underwater statue of Jesus he helped transport from Italy to the United States was a reunion 51 years in the making.

Spataro, 80, came face-to-face with the famous "Christ of the Deep" statue for the first time in its final resting spot in the waters off Key Largo, Florida, in a May 18 dive he called "inspirational," The Miami Herald reported.

The statue of Jesus, commissioned by Italian dive equipment manufacturer Egidio Cressi, is a replica of Italian sculptor Guido Galletti's "Il Cristo degli Abissi," which was submerged in 1954 in the Mediterranean Sea on the Italian Riviera, the newspaper reported.

In 1961, Spataro, an avid diver, was reportedly tasked with transporting the replica from Genoa, Italy, to Chicago, where it was to be put on display at the Underwater Society of America's convention the following year.

According to the Herald, Spataro was able to wrangle free passage for the statue on a steamboat traveling from Genoa to Chicago's Navy Pier. A friend at a trucking company agreed to transport the statue from the pier to the historic Palmer House Hotel for the convention.

After the convention, Spataro enlisted a friend in the Illinois National Guard to help take the statue to Florida, where it was eventually submerged on the ocean's floor off Key Largo on Aug. 25, 1965, the Herald reported.

With the help of Diveheart, a nonprofit that provides scuba diving experiences for disabled individuals, Spataro was recently able to visit "Christ of the Deep" in its permanent home for the first time, according to the report.

"It was really inspirational and left me with a good feeling in my heart," Spataro told the Herald.

Spataro, who suffers from an eye disease, told the Herald that the other divers and crew members aboard the boat made him feel like a celebrity when he made the 25-foot descent to see the statue.

"But I was happy to see people having fun and to see a 10-year-old girl make her first open water dive on it so she could get her certificate. She wanted me to sign her logbook. That made my day," he told the paper.

Click here for more from The Miami Herald.

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