Decimated by Tornado, a Legion Post Rises

In Tupelo, Miss., tornadoes have twice decimated the building for American Legion Post 49. In 1936 it was rebuilt and lasted until April 2014, when an F4 tornado tore a path right through scores of oak trees and the building.

No one was injured when the 2014 storm struck. But plenty of post members opposed the idea of rebuilding their home.

Post Commander Mike Pettigrew not only wanted to rebuild, he envisioned a building that would serve as a legacy for post members.

“I saw the potential of the grounds even before the tornado,” said Pettigrew, who retired in 2013 after a 28-year career with the Army. “It was an asset that we did not maximize to up our own status in the community and also to assist community. We are in the process of building a nature trail on the back and trying to get the Boy Scouts more involved. We had a blank slate - as opposed to an old building - to try to overcome, and that just gave us more opportunity.”

The National Emergency Fund (NEF) provided the post a much-needed grant in the aftermath of the storm, when the property was littered with downed trees and other debris. Several post members also received emergency NEF aid.

“The veterans that received the grant were helped a lot,” Pettigrew said. “Their homes suffered minimal damage (in comparison to the post) because the path was fairly narrow. It did help them get back on their feet. It helped them cover some costs that were not covered by their insurance.”

National Commander Dale Barnett chose the NEF as his fundraising program, aiming to raise $1 million during his year in office. “The National Emergency Fund is so vital to American Legion members and posts," Barnett said. "In Mississippi, thanks to efforts of the NEF and others, Post 49 is being rebuilt and is rising from the ashes. That's what we're about in The American Legion: Veterans helping veterans.”

The $5,000 NEF grant that the post received was a definite plus, Pettigrew said, noting the final costs of the project will be around $1.5 million. “Every bit helps, and we are still in the process of raising money to do things - to repair the road, parking lot and tractor shed," he said. Since April 2014, the post has continued its major programs – planting 1,700 American flags on veterans' graves, fielding an American Legion Baseball team that won the state championship and sending 19 teens to Boys State this year.

The Tupelo post owns the 36-acre property, including a 23-acre lake, and a wooded area that Eagle Scouts use for their projects. Pettigrew's vision was to rebuild and use the resources to the post's advantage. The construction of the building is well under way. When completed, it will evoke a sense of southern and stately charm, as the columns lining the new main entrance can attest.

Pettigrew envisions the new building as one that will host weddings, receptions, parties and more, giving the post a steady revenue stream.

Pettigrew advises potential donors that they are contributing to the legacy.

“What we try to tell people, even past donors and potential donors, is that you are not donating for the completion of a building,” he said. “When we talk to donors, we try to show our passion for what we are going to do and this is just as we say in the military: The building is a combat multiplier. It gives us autonomy, ability to raise money and fund all of the programs that we do: Boys State, Baseball, Oratorical, Educator of the Year and Boy Scouts. It provides us a means to an end, but it is not the end in itself.”

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