Veterans Day is this Saturday, Nov. 11., with Dade County’s annual Veterans Day parade beginning at noon. Turning out to line Main Street and cheer is a good way to show your appreciation for the vets. But another great way, if you have a little extra cash, is to contribute to the American Legion Post 106’s ongoing push to pay off its meeting hall.
Readers may remember the local consternation last winter when Post 106 announced its decision to sell its heavily mortgaged building on North Main, and the subsequent jubilation when the vets changed their minds. The Planet last ran articles on the Legion hall’s plight in December 2016. With Veterans Day coming, the time seemed ripe for an update, and The Planet accordingly sat down recently with Post 106 Commander—and retired U.S. Army General—Bob Woods.
“We’ve done well, but we still owe $35,000,” was the general’s curt synopsis.
Gen. Woods went back over the history: A year ago, he said, the Legion hall’s financial situation was grim. “There were four or five of us that were dealing with the pressures of paying for the building every month,” said the general. “I’d never brought it out to the open body.”
But discussing it with the entire membership, and taking decisive action, increasingly seemed the only way to proceed. The post was bleeding money. It was taking a loss on the activities it hosted, including Bingo nights as well as gospel and bluegrass evenings, which generated not much income but a whopping electric bill every month. On top of that, the $168,000 mortgage was crushing.
Another Legion post, Post 40 in LaFayette, had taken over the mortgage to help Post 106 out from under a much more oppressive arrangement with a commercial lender. “They have been wonderful with us,” said the general (left). “They’re a class act and we appreciate deeply what they’ve done.” Still, there simply wasn’t the money to make the $800-per-month payments, and it was worrying post leadership literally sick.
“I kept thinking about it and I was losing sleep,” said the general. Meanwhile, another of the post’s worker bees actually fretted himself into a heart crisis. “The stress was so high he went into the hospital,” said Gen. Woods. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I said no, we’re not going to have this ever again.”
So the problem was brought before the Legion post’s general membership, discussed and debated, and eventually brought to a vote on Dec. 13, 2016. The vets decided to sell, on the principle that a Legion post was more than the building it inhabited, and that its efforts ought to be more about supporting servicemen and women than scrabbling to service debt.
“Well, the next day my phone was ringing off the hook,” said the general. “People were saying no, the American Legion is part of Dade County, it’s part of Trenton. We will raise money.”
And raise money they did. After the vets consented to reconsider—nobody had been that happy about the decision to part with the building in the first place—accounts were set up at both local banks, and businesses and individuals contributed generously. Around $144,000 was collected in all. “We’re very grateful for that,” said Gen. Woods. “We want to thank Dade County.”
The post has now discontinued its Bingo nights as well as the musical evenings, settled some of its debts and reworked its mortgage arrangement so that it has halved its monthly payments, from $800 to $400 a month. But to pay off the mortgage entirely, the post’s goal, it would have to write a $35,000 check, and the general is starting a new fundraising push toward that end.
“I’m going back out to the local businesses,” said Gen. Woods. “Some of the businesses said, I’ve got to check with higher headquarters before I can commit. I’m just going to go back around and remind them if I can, say, hey, we’d appreciate some help.”
The vets would appreciate your help, too. If you can contribute, the address is American Legion Post 106, P.O. Box 305, Trenton, GA 30752. Or give the money to any member veteran, added the general, and he or she will make sure it gets to the right place.
One way or the other, Gen. Woods wanted to make it clear to the community that the idea of selling the hall is no longer on the table. “We’re keeping the building forever,” he said.
A few more points as to the State of the Legion: Café 106, the restaurant that rents space inside the Legion hall, is up and running under new management after having closed briefly earlier in the year. “We welcome everybody to come back to the café,” said Gen. Woods.
The restaurant is open for both breakfast and lunch most days. Tuesdays and Saturdays lunch is not served, and on Sunday the featured meal at the café is an after-church dinner.
Want Bingo? Run Bingo!
Bingo, discontinued last December, remains absent from the hall, but the general says it could come back if somebody else is willing to manage it. “The American Legion is not anti-Bingo,” he said. “We have the equipment; we have the location. If someone else wants to come in and get certified and run Bingo and just rent it from us, we are totally in favor of that.” It might be worth somebody’s while, says the general: “There are plenty of outstanding ladies in Dade County that want Bingo back.”
The Legion post does still have a couple of projects to raise money. Members sell pork rinds at community events, said the general, and this year they’ve been hosting big community dinners at the meeting hall. “We tried it out and we’ve done it three times and we will continue to do this,” said the general.
People have turned out for the suppers from all ends of the county, said Gen. Woods. “They sit in the hall, they’re telling stories, they’re having a great time and it’s just enjoyable, and we make money to put toward the hall and we’re happy about that,” he said.
Dinner, which can be barbecue, spaghetti or steaks, costs $10 a head. The next one is in April; the Legion decided against competing for attendance in the hectic holiday season.
We’ve focused here on the Legion Post’s struggle to save its meeting hall, but Veterans Day is a good time to be aware of servicemen and women’s larger struggles. Gen. Woods had plenty to say on this, too. “The all-volunteer force of the last 10 or 12 years, all they’ve done is train, deploy, return, train, deploy, return, et cetera et cetera,” said the general. “They don’t get any real breaks at all.”
“Historically, most soldiers would have one combat experience in their lifetime,” said his wife, Nadine Woods, who had joined in the interview. It might be a long deployment, like those of the World War II vets whose profiles The Planet has been running this week, but after your gig was done you came home.
Now all that’s changed. Ms. Woods, who herself left the service as a captain after the birth of her first child, explained that the Army awards soldiers a gold deployment slash, to be worn on the sleeves of dress uniforms, for each deployment. Nowadays, she said, you see people with armfuls of the things. “That takes a toll on those soldiers,” she said. “Soldiers are committing suicide every day, from what they’ve seen and been through.”
The Army realizes this increase in deployments is a problem and even has an abbreviation for it: OPTEMPO, for operation tempo.
OPTEMPO is one reason to give your younger-generation vets an extra-nice thank-you this Veterans Day. But Gen. Woods reminds you to also thank their spouses. “If you are a military family and the soldier deploys, the spouse is still back there raising kids alone and that’s a challenge,” said the general. “I had a wonderful career but you can’t have a great career without great support from your family.”
The Woods family, for example, moved 18 times before Nadine Woods settled down in her native Rising Fawn to raise children, after which Gen. Woods moved another four times on his own, getting home to the family when he could.
One of the general’s latter gigs, BTW, was in Washington D.C., after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Shaken by the airplane that had slammed into the Pentagon, the Army engaged Gen. Woods, whose career had centered around air defense, to organize a defense strategy for the nation’s capital.
The general retired in 2009, and since then has advocated for many Dade County causes but for none more vigilantly than veterans. “We can take for advantage our way of life,” said Gen. Woods. “We have the freedoms that other people around the world strive to get. People from around the world still see America as the land of opportunity.”
Veterans Day, he reminds, is a great day to remember who keeps America that way, and thank them for their service.