Texas post nears reopening 16 months after Hurricane Harvey
American Legion Post 7 Commander Robert Bailey of Port Arthur, Texas, prepares for the reopening of the post after it was damaged during Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Loren Elliott/The American Legion

Texas post nears reopening 16 months after Hurricane Harvey

To Robert Bailey, American Legion Post 7 in Port Arthur, Texas, is home.

It’s where Bailey, the post commander, bonds with fellow members. It’s where he cooks meals every Sunday. It’s where families enjoy the barbecue pits and nearly Olympic-sized swimming pool.

But since Hurricane Harvey rolled into town Aug. 29, 2017, the post has been closed. The storm’s rains flooded the post, leaving up to three feet of water in some places.

“When we arrived, there was water up to my chest,” Bailey recalled. “When we came into the hall, I literally cried. It broke my heart. To come back to where it is now is a total blessing. I thank God and everybody around me for what they have done.”

Hurricane Harvey caused more than $125 billion in damage, dropped 40 to 60 inches of rain in parts of southeastern Texas and inundated hundreds of thousands of homes. The mayor of Port Arthur said the entire 144-square-mile city was submerged.

For more than a year, contractors and Post 7 members have chipped away at the work needed to fix the damage and reopen the building. It’s been a long haul.

“I’ve been in a state of depression since all this stuff happened,” Bailey said. “I care more for this post than I do for my own house. My house is eight blocks away. Right now it is completely gutted. I have devoted all my time to this place because I love it so much. I love all the guys here.”

Reconstruction has included gutting and replacing nearly everything in the 10,000-square-foot building — new floors and tiles, a total roof replacement, rebuilt electric, new walls and more.

“We’re in the final stages,” Bailey said, aiming for a grand reopening in January and a big celebration in honor of the post’s 100th anniversary later in 2019. “Once everybody comes back and sees it, everyone will be happy again. When we reopen I will be happy. I’ll be back to being me again, as my wife says. She says I haven’t been myself in about a year.”

On the road to recovery, Post 7 and its members have received assistance from sources like The American Legion National Emergency Fund (NEF), which granted the post $10,000.

“It definitely helped us get back on our feet again,” said Bailey, noting the post received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Texas American Legion. “The National Emergency Fund helped a lot of our members out. If y’all didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be here. For helping Rudolph Lambert American Legion Post 7 — thank you.”

NEF grants are available to American Legion members and Sons of The American Legion members, as well as posts, who are recovering from a natural disaster. Individuals may receive up to a $3,000 grant, while posts may get up to $10,000, in immediate financial assistance.

Hundreds of NEF grants were doled out in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which walloped parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere in 2017. Donations to NEF will allow the program to continue to assist victims of natural disasters. Click here to make a contribution to NEF.

Wayne Newsom couldn’t stand to see the post in its state of devastation.

“I couldn’t come in,” said Newsom, who has been a post member for about seven years. “I saw the damage from outside and I had to drive off.”

He didn’t get water in his house but his garage was flooded by Harvey. “I didn’t get upset about that. But this (damage at the post) hurt my feelings. There is so much joy here. Children play in the swimming pool. It’s a real good place for families. This is our home.”

Post 7 also represents home to Lucinda Clary, the adjutant and a member of the Auxiliary unit.

Clary evacuated Port Arthur before the hurricane hit. “When I came back and saw the post, I was heartbroken,” she recalled. “It looked like a ghost town. It had no atmosphere. It was an abandoned building.”

Bailey, Clary and other Legion Family members were determined that it would reopen. She scrubbed in the kitchen, helped serve meals to other volunteers and pitched in wherever needed.

“To me this is family and you don’t abandon family,” said Clary, who was a medic in the Air Force. “As long as this building stands and represents the Legion, I’ll be here.”

Before the grand opening, the post is expected to reopen for members in a couple of weeks.

“It will be tears but not because I am sad,” she said. “They will be because I will see people who I have not seen in a while. To have us all back under one roof is going to be fantastic.”

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.