In 2019, American Legion Post 207 in Tucker, Ga., was devastated by a fire after it had served as an active part of the community for years. Then came COVID, which slowed the rebuild effort and caused the post’s insurance company to initially refuse payment because the effort was taking too long. There were also supply chain issues that affected the construction.
The future looked bleak for the facility. But then U.S. Marine Corps veteran Anthony Mathis volunteered to take over as post commander and oversee the rebuild effort that included meshing the traditional mission of the post with a new vision.
Mathis got the ball rolling on the rebuild, and when fellow Marine veteran Scott Brady joined the post in 2022, he shared a similar a vision. Together, the two are continuing to move toward their common as they get closer to the finish line.
Mathis and Brady estimate around 60 percent of the work is completed, with around $400,000 having been raised toward the project and another $200,000 sought for the project. The infrastructure is in place for the facility, which is being expanded from its original 2,500 square feet to 6,000.
The 52-year-old Mathis admits it wasn’t the best time for someone to volunteer to be post commander. But he felt a calling.
“The motivating factor behind that is I saw a bigger vision than what (the post) was in the past,” Mathis said. “I saw something bigger, and it needed someone with that kind of motivation and vision to get us there.”
And that vision? Mathis said it was to provide “a real service to all of our veterans … and bring in and entice those younger veterans. Put something in place that will make it more technology-friendly, computers, the state-of-the-art stuff that is needed in the real world and the work force. Put stuff in place so that we can get training outside of what the (Department of Veterans Affairs) can provide, in a place where we can come in for fellowship … a one-stop shop outside of the VA hospital in our community. That was the vision: to provide a place where you can get healthy … and feel at home with your family.”
Brady, also 52, had been an active member of another Legion post before moving to Tucker with his family. He began looking for a post to join and found out that Post 207 had burned down. “I thought I could reach out and lend a hand for the rebuild,” Brady said. “But the post was all shut down. You couldn’t reach anybody. The only information I could find was a newspaper article that Anthony was mentioned in.”
Brady was able to contact Mathis to get an assessment of the post’s situation. “He explained the backstory … and it had come to where he was in a foxhole,” Brady said. “Most people don’t want to take over a post in that kind of a situation. But he was a Marine and I was a Marine, and we immediately became brothers over the phone. I shared my commitment to him … and I wasn’t going to let him give up on this post. I could tell he didn’t want to, but he just needed help. When we started to go down the road of what we wanted to do for the post, we were completely in alignment.”
Insurance eventually paid around $200,000 toward the claim. The rest of the fundraising has been through what the pair called a grass-roots effort. And the support has been there.
“I’ve had a chance to meet with a lot of city council members, mayors and folks of that nature, business owners in the community,” Mathis said. “Everyone is pulling for us. Everyone is chipping in. Everyone wants to see this facility up and running. Prior to the fire we were very active, whether it was with the Scouts or the neighborhood schools. They are aware of this post in the community, and they want to see it rebuilt and opened again.”
While rebuilding the actual facility, the goals also are to develop walking trails and an outdoor gym, as well as a deck and BBQ pit.
“It will take shape kind of organically to see what the veterans want,” Brady said, noting that the effort wants to “rejuvenate and kind of appeal to a younger generation, while obviously being able to respect our older veterans.”
Brady said he became even more motivated to reopen the post when he learned of the number of veterans taking their own life every day. “Somehow, it clicked with me that saving this post with Anthony was a part of saving veterans’ lives,” he said. “What could we do that was healthy? That’s where we were aligned.”
The pair came up with a mission statement: Rescue, Restore and Repay.
“The Rescue is rescuing veterans that are in isolation or struggling with mental health or disconnectivity and need a place to go where they feel welcome,” Brady explained. “Restore is restoring them to good health and getting them to their best selves through good health and good skills. Repay was repaying that back to the community through the traditional American Legion efforts … flag services and the barbecues, the baseball teams and all the things the Legion can do. It’s just so incredible.”
The end goal, Brady said, is to provide an environment that’s special to the veterans who visit it.
“To make things worthy of going to, they have to be special,” Brady said. “It has to be special when you walk in the door. What kind of feeling do you get? Do you feel proud to be part of it? That’s what we want to bring to the table: ‘Wow, you’re a member of Legion Post 207? I’m really jealous of what you have going on there.’”