On Saturday March 23, 2013, American Legion Post 119 in Vernonia celebrated its 89th Anniversary with an open house and BBQ lunch. The following week on Thursday March 28, The Home Depot Team arrived in Vernonia with supplies and manpower and began renovations on the Legion Hall. Both events signified a revival of sorts of Legion Post 119 that local members hope will provide services for both veterans and the community.
“What we want to do is open this building up to the community, and let them know that if they need anything we are here,” says E.J. Davidson, the current Commander of Post 119. “We’re here to help the veterans in our community, if they are down we are here to help. But we are also here to help the general public. If they need anything like landscaping or other work, we are here to help them.”
Davidson has served in the military since 1997 and was recently injured while serving in Iraq. He was sworn in as Commander in January. According to Davidson Post 119 has been dormant for many years. The building was in need of a facelift and membership has fallen off. “I want people to know that we are open now.”
Davidson says Post 119 currently has twenty-six members and is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM.
The renovation project that was just started was made possible with a $9800 grant from Home Depot. As part of that grant Post 119 will receive new paint inside, remodeled bathrooms and kitchen, a paved walkway leading to ramped entrance, a smoking area in the back of the building and other fixes to the outside of the building. The work was provided by local volunteers as well as a team of workers from Home Depot. The building has been flooded twice in 1996 and again in 2007 and was in need of a lot of work.
Post 119 has also received several donations from the community, including chairs, office supplies and furniture and computers which have helped with the revival.
Ralph Sturdevant is the longest standing member of Post 119 having been an active member for sixty-seven years; he joined after returning from WW II. Sturdevant and has a wealth of history about the building and prior members and was on hand at the 89th Anniversary celebration to share some stories. Sturdevant says he served during the occupation of Munich, Germany with the 508th MP Battalion . He says he was drafted right out of high school in 1945, in fact he says he missed his graduation day because he shipped out the night before the ceremony.
Sturdevant has seen a lot in his years as a member of Post 119. His father was also a member after serving in WW I and his mother was an Auxiliary member. Sturdevant remembers when the building was two stories high and had 300 members. “Can you imagine that in a little town like this?” he asks. Sturdevant says the two story building collapsed during the winter of 1949-50 when they area received twelve feet of snow. “Two or three of the WW I vets put this building back up,” he explains. “They just used the materials from the old building. A blacksmith and I cut twenty-four by twenty-four inch concrete blocks by hand and that is what is under this building as the foundation.”
The American Legion is a large network made up of wartime veterans, their families and their communities. Local members in Vernonia are working to bring new life into Post 119. Karl East is the Adjunct and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the post. East is working on recruiting new members and scheduling activities. Right now Post 119 is hosting Bingo each month every other Saturday. He says he hopes to start a regular Texas Hold ‘em Tournament on opposite Saturday nights. These events are open to the public and the community is invited to attend and support their local Legion. Regular Legion meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month.
His wife, Melanie East is also involved and is working to revive branches of the Ladies Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion, which she hopes to have active in the next few months. She also hopes to start an American Legion Riders Chapter in the near future.
“Anybody who needs anything, anything at all, anyway that we can help out, that’s what we want the American Legion to be in this community,” says Karl East.
American Legion Post 119 is located at 627 Adams Avenue. You can reach the office at 503-429-0495.