It wasn’t quite a military operation, but the Henderson, Smith Edmunds American Legion Post 86 in Rockville was under siege for two days as Home Depot workers painted, nailed and paneled their way to a brand new look for the retired military post.
About 65 volunteers from Home Depot stores around the region worked alongside Post members to rebuild and repair the Post after the June 29 derecho caused major damage to the building.
“We are at the lowest point [in the shoping center] and the water drained down and overflowed into the building, destroying the carpeting,” former post commander Levelle Ferrell said.
The workers were bringing to reality the Post’s “extreme makeover,” made possible by a $20,000 grant from The Home Depot Foundation.
“I’m very excited, this is going to provide us with an update to present a positive image to veterans coming in,” said Colleen Mulroney of Ashton, the post commander.
Meanwhile, the Post was coming down around her and new walls, paneling, light fixtures, ceiling tiles and ceiling fans were going up. Volunteers repaired wiring, painted and cleaned up as they worked to the beat of rock music from the Post’s sound system.
“This is one of our larger projects,” said Fred Wellman of the Home Depot Foundation. “Our mission is to focus on veterans housing issues, we have devoted $80 million over five years to helping vets.”
Wellman said the Foundation typically focuses on helping homeless veterans, but the Post 86 makeover was part of a Celebration of Service Campaign that takes on special projects.
John Roberts, manager of the Germantown Home Depot, encouraged the Rockville Post to apply for the grant and was project manager for the two days of heavy construction.
His son is in Junior ROTC at Gaithersburg High School and the Post does a lot for the community and the Junior ROTC program, he said.
Some of the Rockville Post members were helping the Home Depot volunteers working Thursday. Another shift planned to be there Friday to install the carpet and complete the work.
One of them was Juan Morales of Silver Spring, a Vietnam War veteran.
“This is like a story place,” he said. “You can come and tell your story, we talk about what we did in Vietnam or Korea or Iraq. It’s interesting.”
Don Suddath of Rockville, a veteran of the Korean War, agreed it was a place to meet and talk and help each other.
He said he attends most of the functions at the Post, which include meetings, fundraisers, dinners and socializing. His wife is a member of the auxillary, which is open to spouses of members.
”It’s a lot of good people,” Morales said.
Rockville’s Post 86 is one of nine American Legion Posts in Montgomery County and one of about 300 in Maryland, Ferrell said. The Rockville post has 631 members.
“Membership is open to anyone who has served in the military, not just those who have served in combat,” Mulroney said.
American Legion membership, however, is declining statewide — Maryland had 87,000 members in 2001 and the 2011 membership number is down to 57,000, according to Will Trotter, Montgomery County American Legion commander. He said as older members pass away or can no longer keep up their membership, younger veterans are not replacing them. Post 68 has been successful in maintaining its current membership numbers for the past five years.
“We have membership drives and go out into the community asking [vets] to join,” Ferrell said. “We anticipate membership will continue to go up as the war in Afghanistan winds down. These kids will have to have a place to go where they can relate.”
The Post is not just a social environment, Mulroney said, but also a place that offers support to veterans.
“We are definitely a resource. We help them fill out forms, and provide programs, sports teams and scholarships for veterans and their families,” said Mulroney, who served 22 years in the Navy.