For one of two veteran families, receiving a new home is bittersweet.
Deborah “Dee” Bonacasa and her daughter Lilianna entered their new home on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach Monday morning as part of a new chapter, but it wasn’t without great grief because husband and father Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa wasn’t there to join them.
Following what was his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, Bonacasa, a Coram native, wanted to settle down, have a second child and buy the family’s first house with a Veterans Affairs home loan that the couple had been approved for.
But that was taken from them on Dec. 21 when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Bagram Airfield in northwest Afghanistan, killing Bonacasa and five others in his New York Air National Guard Unit.
“My husband is not here to share this wonderful gift we’ve been given, but at the same time they fulfilled a dream that he’s always wanted to be able to do for our family,” said Bonacasa, who is also an Air Force veteran.
The widow said she was thankful for Landmark Properties owner Mark Baisch, Rocky Point’s VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore and all of the other locals who have made the new home possible.
“Everybody has been supporting us since the beginning. I just want to thank everybody.”
The house, which would normally go for $350,000, was sold to Bonacasa for $200,000, Baisch said. He and his employees at Landmark Properties donated $50,000 to Bonacasa. The families got to pick out the flooring, fixtures and décor to help personalize the home, and Baisch even had a surprise for 5-year-old Lily, painting her room blue, her and her father’s favorite color.
“My husband is not here to share this wonderful gift we’ve been given, but at the same time they fulfilled a dream that he’s always wanted to be able to do for our family.” —Dee Bonacasa
The second house, just next door, was sold for $250,000 to Joshua and Megan Johnson. Joshua Johnson will have 14 years of military service this July. He too deployed four times, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and is currently in the Air National Guard. Megan Johnson’s father and older brother are also in the Air National Guard, with her brother being in the Marine Core. Her husband, who the Sound Beach native met three years ago, works in the same base as them, and the two met during her friend’s going away part for deployment.
“We were awestruck,” Megan Johnson said of finding out they were chosen to receive the second house. “Then, when we found out we were going to be neighbors with an amazing family. We just felt so honored.”
Because of the lot’s size, existing town laws only permitted one house to built there, but county and Brookhaven officials agreed to allow two houses to go up for this cause. The neighbors did not object, but actually supported the idea, which Baisch said would not have been possible without the help of county and town governments, private industry and neighbors.
More than 30 subcontractors worked with Baisch, donating material and services to help construct the houses, furnish them and even gave contributions like store gift certificates and a new bicycle for Lily.
The community outpour of welcoming and support was also felt by the families, as over 100 people packed down the small street to say hello to their new neighbors, bring flowers and gifts and show their gratitude for all the families have sacrificed.
“I felt a little worried actually, because to see something happen like this, I couldn’t imagine it, so when it actually did happen to us I felt blessed and just amazed to have this opportunity,” Joshua Johnson said. “I couldn’t imagine it being this huge.”
Megan Johnson said there aren’t words that could adequately express her family’s gratitude and say thank you in the appropriate way, but said it’s been a humbling experience. And they hope to be able to pay it forward.
“To see the outpouring of love, support and generosity from such a small community, it hits it home,” Megan Johnson said. “This is where we’re meant to be and this is why. We still can’t believe that we’re getting our dream home in our dream place, and it feels so great to have all of these people supporting us.”