'This is what brotherhood is all about'

There used to be an outdoor dance floor at American Legion Post 333 in Key Largo, Fla. Hurricane Irma left fallen trees and all matter of other debris covering that and much of the property surrounding the post.

In the post’s patio bar, the keg cooler has been tipped over. Cindi Taylor, president of Auxiliary Unit 333, pointed to one corner of the screened-in area on Friday. “That’s where all the tables ended up,” she said.

Besides her role as Auxiliary president, Taylor said she has been a bartender at the post, a role she’s not sure will be there as Key Largo cleans up from the storm. Post 333 had two feet of flood water inside the building, she said. She’s not optimistic about the post reopening at its current location.

Before they left, Department of Florida Commander Steve Shuga and Disaster Preparedness Chairman Bill Hoppner thanked Taylor for the information, which included a reminder of the curfew in the Keys after Irma’s devastation. They reminded her of the donated supplies they brought to Post 43 in Homestead.

Shuga and Hoppner headed a little further on after leaving Post 43, taking advantage of what access they had to the area after a four-plus hour drive from central Florida. Some miles southwest of Key Largo, near Islamorada, they came across a beachfront mobile home park devastated by the storm. One of the residents told them he’s too tired from cleaning up to think about what’s next. Shuga handed him his business card and encouraged the man to call him when he can.

“This reminds me of ’04, ’05,” Shuga says, referring to that devastating hurricane season. There’s a rotten odor in the air, a mix of seawater and floodwater and muck.

Earlier Friday, Shuga, Hoppner and Department Chaplain Barry Roberts drove their trucks and a trailer from Orlando down to Homestead. Cases of bottled water, non-perishable foods, baby supplies, personal hygiene products and other donations quickly filled a room in Post 43, which five days after Irma is still without power.

But there’s a utility truck working nearby, giving some hope to Post Commander Steve Samuels. He’s also touched by the delivery of supplies.

“This is just a great outreach of cooperation between The American Legion Department and local chapters of The American Legion,” Samuels said while the post’s finance officer, April Balitz, and Auxiliary member Shannon Tauguay sorted the donations.

“We’re going to put out the word on our American Legion site on Facebook that we have these supplies and we’ll list hours that we’re going to be here, and the general public and our members are being taken care of,” Samuels said. “And again I want to give all the credit where credit’s due, these guys organized it up in Orlando at the state office. They not only delivered all of this, there’s a tractor trailer coming down from Maine to deliver additional supplies.

“This is what brotherhood is about.”

Roberts towed the trailer down with his late son Kyle’s former truck. Kyle, a former Seabee with PTSD, died in a motorcycle accident.

“He loved serving his country in the United States Navy Seabees. He loved what I was doing in The American Legion and he would be very, very proud and honored that his truck is being used to serve his fellow veterans in The American Legion, and to serve the community and outreach after a disaster. He would be very honored,” Roberts said.

National Emergency Fund

National Emergency Fund

When natural disasters like tornadoes, floods or wildfires strike, The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund swiftly delivers needed money to veterans in their communities.