A “Category 10” is how many U.S. Virgin Islanders refer to the 2017 hurricane season that walloped the area with back-to-back beatings from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
During an official visit to American Legion posts in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John last week, American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan promised to carry their message to an important audience.
“I look forward to going to Washington the end of February and letting Congress know what I’ve seen here,” she said, while standing in front of a mobile VA clinic in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. “The veterans that live here have great hope and they continue to serve this nation. They continue to take care of their neighbors.”
In a meeting with Rohan and a Legion delegation from the Department of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp noted the region’s “robust and strong” military and American Legion presence.
“We have 1,400 high school students across the territory who participate in Junior ROTC and I’m told that 70 percent of them join the U.S. military,” Mapp said. He added that hurricane recovery efforts are going well, thanks in no small part to the efforts of National Guard contingents from 46 states.
“The way the U.S. government responds to our needs in a disaster is unmatched by any other nation,” he said.
American Legion Post 131 on St. John was hit particularly hard. “Irma took this whole building out,” Post 131 Commander Harry A. Daniel said while showing Rohan the wreckage of what was the post home. “(Irma) destroyed everything we had permanently. Our records, our equipment, our flags, everything that we had in this place.”
Despite the massive destruction of the two hurricanes, Daniel is committed to keeping The American Legion presence on St. John. So much so that he has donated a building owned by his family for the post to use.
Daniel is not alone in his generosity. The American Legion Department of Pennsylvania donated $50,000 to the Department of Puerto Rico. The Department of North Carolina sent another $10,000. Florida Post 57 raised another $4,500 and Hollywood Post 43 added another $2,200. So far, departments and posts have given $72,000 directly to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which doesn’t include additional aid rendered through the Legion's National Emergency Fund, Operation Comfort Warriors and Temporary Financial Assistance.
“The people here keep saying that they are blessed and that some others have it worse,” Rohan said. “It just shows how American Legion Family members are always looking out for others. But while pictures show the beauty of these islands, when you look up close those blue roofs covering the buildings are not really roofs. They are tarps covering up roofs that were lost and damaged. What they need here is very real and will continue for a long time.”
Department of Puerto Rico Commander Alfonso M. Christian believes Rohan’s visit helped boost morale for Legion Family members in the region. “It was important for her to convey the compassion that The American Legion has for those that have been impacted by this,” he said. “I believe her visit is an inspiration to the people that the headquarters cares for every one of our members.”