'I'm not going to let (Post 11) close'
It would be understandable if there was a bit of “woe is us” in Bob Grinis’ attitude these days. After all, American Legion Post 11 in Arcadia, Fla., where Grinis is the post adjutant, was flooded when the rains spawned by Hurricane Irma swelled the nearby Peace River to record depths.
“I’m not going to let this place close. I refuse,” Grinis said Sunday as he stood on the porch at the post, the building still surrounded by the Peace River’s floodwaters.
The Post 11 building sits in DeSoto Veterans Memorial Park on Arcadia’s western edge. There’s one road in — appropriately named American Legion Drive — on the park’s west side, and a bridge on the east side allows foot traffic from the city into the park.
On Sunday, the Peace River rolled by mere inches below that bridge. The entire park was still underwater, though Grinis noted that the water level had gone down a few feet already from when he and Department of Florida Commander Steve Shuga had talked the day before.
That drop in the flooding allowed Grinis to finally get into the post on Sunday and assess the damage.
“The drywall’s going to have to be taken out, we’re going to have to get new appliances, the offices, the filing cabinet, I’m sure we’ve lost some important records. Other than that, I don’t think that we’re going to be too bad. The roof is in good shape, the building itself is generally in good shape; I think we can do it, it’s going to run a bunch of money. We don’t have flood insurance … so we’re going to try to get help from the (National) Emergency Fund, and I’m going to go out and start soliciting some of the veterans in the area,” Grinis said.
There’s a veterans program that airs Friday mornings on local radio station 1480 WFLN AM, which Grinis was going to use to seek help, and he said he was going to talk with Post Commander Ron Jones about working with the city to find a temporary post. Grinis said Post 11 has added some 20-30 members in the last seven to eight months, so it’s understandable that they would want to find a temporary home to keep that momentum of growth.
“There’s a lot of veterans in this neighborhood, in this area, that need help. That’s what we’re trying to do, is to help the veterans,” he said.
Grinis noted that most of DeSoto County’s homeless population are veterans.
“A lot of them don’t want to live in homes, but we can still help them through furnishing them with tents and stuff like that,” he said.
Grinis said he had spent a lot of time checking to make sure others were all right in Arcadia and the county. He talked about a fellow member of Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church who had been living in his car with his wife and three children because their home was without power. Grinis lent them a generator.
“I found out while we were waiting for the truck to come in, they just got their power back on, so he said, his mother doesn’t have power, I said, take the generator. This is the kind of things we’ve been doing. Now that the water has receded, we’ll be doing a lot more,” he said.
And that spirit of charity has already been returned, both locally and from across the nation, Grinis noted.
“At my church, I’ve got four or five guys that are going to come out here as soon as we can get in here with a truck, we’re bringing in a dump trailer and we’re going to start tearing it all out and it’s not going to cost us any money; these guys are going to volunteer their time. This community is a good volunteer community, they really, really help each other,” Grinis said.
“I understand we’ve had people from as far away as Oregon and Washington state already contacting people, whatever we need. It’s very heartening to know that there are people out there like that. But again, this is what The American Legion is all about. It’s brotherhood, it’s standing together, it’s a can-do attitude and we’re going to make it back, we’re coming back. … I know that everybody out there who’s ever been through any type of crisis, whether it’s a tornado, a hurricane or whatever will understand what we’re going through at this time. And their prayers and best wishes will be sent to us. I know that.”
When Grinis and Legion national media photographers had finished looking at the post, they waded back through the floodwaters to where Shuga, Disaster Preparedness Chairman Bill Hoppner and others waited. Grinis and Shuga hugged and Grinis again emphasized that Post 11 wasn’t going to close on his watch.
Waiting on the other side of the bridge was another family who were forced to stay in their car since the storm. The Legion family grabbed backpacks filled with nonperishable food and other supplies and filled the family’s car.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Jim Day, chairman of the Florida Legion Riders.