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TR in WDSU: Military vets help recover tombs

Mike Lee

Mike Lee, a native of Chicago, graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Creative Writing. At LMU, Mike developed international and domestic volunteer trips and served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Student Veterans Organization. Mike’s professional background is in advertising and marketing, and has experience in executing large print and digital campaigns for non-profit and tourism clients. He lives in Los Angeles where he thinks a lot about dogs, bourbon, and the Chicago Bears.

Team Rubicon finds remains washed away by Hurricane Isaac

BRAITHWAITE, La. — A group of military veterans is on the ground in Lower Plaquemines Parish recovering caskets and tombs washed away during Hurricane Isaac. Herman Bienemy, 74, is looking for his mother and sister, Pauline and Mildred Bienemy. “They was in wood caskets, and they’re out of their tombs. They’re not in their tombs. They could be anywhere,” Bienemy said. Their family tomb split open when nearly 12 feet of water surged into Braithwaite during Hurricane Isaac. “I don’t know why hers split in half and half the top went. I found my Daddy’s head in there,” said Bienemy.

About 200 military veterans from across the country are helping people like Bienemy find their loved ones. “We kind of consider ourselves strike teams of disaster relief,” said Bienemy. They call themselves Team Rubicon, and it’s a mission Marine Norman Voshall is proud of. “It’s their time of need, and we need to be there for them, because that’s really what’s going to strengthen our country,” said Voshall. They are tracking dozens of tombs strewn about Louisiana. “You never think the water can do this much damage. It really is mind-blowing,” said Voshall.

Tombs are heavy, making pickup a challenge. Voshall said one found on the levee was about 5,000 pounds. “They’re going to have to bring in a pretty serious crane,” said Voshall. Then, they have to make sure it’s returned to the right cemetery. There are three in Braithwaite.

After Hurricane Katrina, many decided to put GPS tracking numbers on tombs, so if they are upended in floodwaters, they can be returned where they belong. It’s a process that authorities said could take months.

“It may be the last thing they run into, so I have to live with it,” said Bienemy. He said it’s worth the wait so his family can rest in peace.

Team Rubicon is also helping people in Braithwaite gut houses and rebuild. There are more than 2,500 members nationwide.