Army veteran Frank Froman and his wife, Gisela, were at a gas station when the deadly tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., late afternoon on May 20; their six-month pregnant granddaughter was at their house alone. They returned home to find their granddaughter safe but were faced with the tornado's aftermath — a pile of debris. And it was just three weeks ago that the Froman's paid off their entire home mortgage.
"People are the most important thing. Everything else can be replaced," Gisela said.
The route home from the gas station was shocking. "We couldn't even find what road we lived on," said Chris Froman, son of Franklin and Gisela. "Yet, we came into the neighborhood and a few blocks away it was normal — there wasn't any damage to homes."
The Category 5 tornado left little standing in its path. Family pictures, newspapers, splinters of wood, insulation and roofing materials now cover streets, sidewalks and yards, as clothes and sheets hang among the lifeless trees. Volunteers of all ages are cleaning up the debris with rakes, shovels, trash bags and backhoes, as well as handing out food, water and clothing at makeshift relief centers. The devastation is massive, yet the community is filled with resilience, hope and patriotism — it is seen in the relief efforts.
"Just when you think the country is divided, you look around at all these people — many of whom don't even live here (in Moore) — helping with the cleanup efforts and it reminds you that people are patriotic," Department of Oklahoma Adjutant Lance Rooms said.
Rooms, along with many other Legionnaires, are on-site at the Home Depot in Moore — which is serving as a relief center — to let veterans know that The American Legion is there to help. The Legion has allocated $1 million to assist veterans and their families whose homes were devastated by the tornado. Legionnaires James Kercheval and his wife, Tammy, were helping the Froman's apply for the emergency funding when they received the opportunity to see the tornado's damage firsthand at the Froman's home.
"He (Frank) seems like he was taking everything pretty well, but I hurt for him," said James, vice commander of Post 72 in Ada, Okla. "I feel his loss. Being a combat vet in Iraq, I have seen devastation like this before. So I feel his pain, and I can sympathize with him."
Air Force veteran Vernon Mills heard the tornado sirens wailing and immediately took his family to the storm cellar located in the backyard. Mills' called his son, Aaron, at work to tell him they made it safely to the cellar.
"I heard dad say, ‘Here it comes,' and then he hung up," Aaron said. "He called back and said he couldn't open the cellar door because debris was covering it. It took me four hours to get to them because of the wreckage, so their neighbors had to dig them out. Everyone is ok, unharmed. Everything else can be replaced."
Vernon is appreciative of the financial aid he is receiving from the Legion. "The assistance means a lot, and I appreciate it. If we didn't have the cellar, we wouldn't have survived," he said with tears.
Moore Post 184 was not in the tornado's path and is undamaged. Nearby Post 88 in Norman, Okla., was unscathed and is also assisting in relief efforts. The post is serving as a drop-off and distribution place where veterans and their families can come to the post to receive emergency assistance funding, diapers, toys, food, water, dog/cat/livestock food, Wal-Mart gift cards and more. Post 88 Adjutant Evyonne King said she has reached out to media channels and Facebook to announce the items available for veterans and their families. She had one family come by that only lived 20 minutes away, but due to heavy traffic from road closures, it took them nearly three hours.
"Every member that we have at Post 88 is very proud to be a member of our post because we not only get involved with veterans, but we get involved with our community," King said.