By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
SLIDELL – “The American spirit is alive and well,” Slidell contractor Tommy Benasco told a crowd at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery on Monday.
Benasco, owner of the Mark Group, LLC construction company, was one of the speakers at a groundbreaking ceremony for what will be the Memorial Fountain that will soon be part of the committal shelter at the local cemetery for military veterans.
Benasco, a recent new member for the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Assembly 1635, heard about a committee trying to raise $60,000 to build a fountain at the Slidell cemetery. Knowing he had been a Slidell building contractor for years he immediately wanted to get involved.
“And when I started calling my suppliers and asking my subs if they would donate materials or their own labor I never had one ‘no.’ The American spirit is alive and the show of patriotism I saw in being a part of this was great,” he added.
Since the Veterans Cemetery was built in Slidell two years ago it has been the site for hundreds of burials already. However, there is still a great need for volunteer organizations to help create better aesthetics on the property that is already covered by the traditional small white headstones at veteran cemeteries across the country.
Terry O’Malley connected with Southeast Veterans Cemetery Director Ted Krumm earlier this year when he heard about a veteran being buried there, but with no family to have ever claimed his remains.
“I brought a lot of our KC members there and told Ted that we should never see any veteran buried without the proper respect and honors,” O’Malley said. “We want every veteran to know that the Knights of Columbus are here for you. We will never forget our veterans and what they did for us all.”
Krumm said he was thankful for the Knights of Columbus support and before O’Malley left he asked the director this question: “What else can we do for you?”
Krumm said he always had the idea for a beautiful fountain on the grounds, but the budget does not cover extra things like that.
“I told Terry about it and he said he would try to get it done. I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since,” Krum said.
O’Malley said they had an initial donation of $5,000 from a KC member and were able to raise another $6,000, but to build the fountain that they wanted was still a price they were far from. Then Benasco stepped in.
“When we told Tommy about it he immediately wanted to be involved. Within two days he called and said it was done,” O’Malley said.
Benasco is a longtime former Slidell police officer and local contractor now in his retirement days from the department. He said he was “humbled to be involved” with something that was showing respect for veterans.
“Who wouldn’t want to be involved in something like this?” he said.
Benasco has the entire project covered thanks to the generosity of local suppliers and sub-contractors, and he is handling the job from a contractor standpoint. He expects to start construction in a week or two and have the fountain finished by January.
The fountain will be 18 feet in radius and 8-feet tall, situated in front of the flagpoles in the general area where most services are held at the committal shelter.
The groundbreaking was viewed as such a great achievement that Louisiana Veterans Affairs Secretary Joey Strickland came to Slidell from Baton Rouge to speak.
“This is such a wonderful thing for our veterans,” Strickland said. “When we build these cemeteries around the state we are always looking for local groups and veterans to get involved in them. We can’t bring the joy and respect to these facilities like locals can.
“The fountain will add a sense of dignity to these grounds and since you have the first cemetery out of four in the state to be getting a fountain I plan to try to get all the others to do the same. This is so wonderful and for all my brothers and sisters who served, I love you all,” he said.
Strickland, a Marine Corp veteran with almost 30 years of service, added an announcement by saying Louisiana had just gotten federal funding to build its fifth veterans cemetery on 22 acres of land in Gramercy.