American Legion in need

Published 9:25 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2017

By Colleen Harrison

An organization celebrating men and women who have fought and served for their country now needs the community’s help.

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Along with a number of homes, businesses and other buildings in the community, Rudolph Lambert American Legion Post 7 in Port Arthur is looking at a long and costly process to get back up and running. According to Post Commander Robert Bailey, known by most as “Shakey Bob,” the club probably won’t be able to open back up for another two months.

Before Tropical Storm Harvey, Bailey said the Port Arthur American Legion was a thriving post, one of the biggest in Texas. The club hosted bingo three days a week and karaoke every other month, and boasted a spacious clubroom and a swimming pool just 20 feet under Olympic size, according to Bailey.

In addition to its accommodations, the club — which opened in 1920 under Rudolph Lambert, one year after the American Legion organization was formed — supported educational programs like Boys’ State and sponsored and provided uniforms for little league and softball teams. It also actively fundraised for the Legion Fund through the American Legion Riders, which aims to help children of veterans pay for college. The group also fed about 2,000 people a week through its kitchen.

On the night the Legion flooded thanks to historic rainfall from Harvey, Bailey said the kitchen was being used to feed first responders working through the storm. Those responders ending up having to be rescued themselves, choosing to leave the Legion once the water inside the building had reached knee level. A boat came right up to the front door of the Legion to get them out. At the time, Bailey said the first responders in the Legion saw the outer brick walls of the building pulsing with water.

Depending on the area inside the club, Bailey said anywhere from two-and-a-half to three feet of water was left standing in the building. The club had wood floors and wood-paneled walls, all of which has since been ripped out. Drywall and insulation have been ripped out as well and whatever was able to be saved from the club’s nearly 100-year history sits in boxes.

Bailey, a United States Marine Corps veteran from the Vietnam War era, has been coming to the club since day one of the storm in order to see what needs to be done, and to figure out how it will be rebuilt.

While the commander has been figuring out how to get the Legion back up and running, he and his wife have been staying with friends after losing their home to the storm. Bailey said they rebuilt their home after it took in two feet of water after Hurricane Rita and he said he will rebuild again, if possible. This time, however, Harvey left the home under five feet of water.

The Baileys made the choice to leave their homes on that fateful night after the water brought copperhead snakes into their home. Responders sent a helicopter with a basket to get people out of their neighborhood, but the Baileys’ friend, Sam Castrale, was able to get to them and get them out around the same time. The Baileys were able to take two coolers worth of belongings with them, along with their two dogs.

“I’ve lived here on and off all my life,” Bailey said. “I’ve never seen water come up this high, this fast.”

In the weeks since Harvey, contractors and restoration crews have been through the Legion ripping out damaged materials and looking at what will need to be done. The club is getting estimates for what it’ll take to restore the building, but Baily said the high costs of repair means the building will not be restored. Bailey thinks the club will probably have to take a loan out in order to offset what its insurance policy won’t be able to cover.

For those looking to help the Legion, Post 7 Financial Officer Jerry Millwood said the best way to do so is through donations. Donations can be mailed to the Legion at 3750 Memorial Boulevard, Port Arthur, TX 77640.

“We’ll take any help we can get,” Bailey said.