The men of Hoboken’s American Legion returned to their post this past Tuesday for the first time since Superstorm Sandy, thanks to the generous aid of Hoboken businesses and the local Rotary Club. Post 107, which occupies a former garage on Second Street between Clinton Street and Willow Avenue, took on six feet of floodwater during the storm, which destroyed walls, furniture, and ruined untold irreplaceable photographs and documents.
Since then, the legionnaires have held their monthly meetings at the Knights of Columbus on Adams Street and haltingly pursued a renovation of their home away from home.
“We’ve been trying to raise money over the years to try and rebuild,” said John Carey, the Post 107 Commander, “and it’s been a struggle, quite honestly.”
The Legion’s building did not have flood insurance at the time of Sandy. The seriousness of their plight only came to the attention of Rotary Club President Joe Mindak a year ago when his magazine hMAG held a fundraiser for the Legion.
“They start telling me how the Legion got wrecked in Sandy, and this was a year after, so nobody’s doing anything about it?” recalled Mindak. After another six months went by, he insisted that the Legion let the Rotary take charge of its rehabilitation.
“I didn’t think it would look so good. It looks like a nightclub now.” – Vincent Wassman
According to Carey, almost everything in Post 107 is new. Red Bridge Homes donated drywall, Robert Jenny Design provided ceiling tiles and construction work, True Value Hardware gave paint and supplies, and Hoboken Lock & Supply replaced the front door and lock. Jim Barry contributed tables and chairs for the space.
Food for the grand reopening of Post 107 was provided by Starbucks, Tony Boloney’s, and Biggie’s Clam Bar.
Back at home
The rehabilitation of Post 107 came as a surprise to Carey’s men, most of whom only learned of it on Tuesday.
“It feels good to be back at home again with all my buddies,” said 89-year-old Vincent Wassman, a Legion chaplain and a veteran of World War II and Korea. “I didn’t think it would look so good. It looks like a nightclub now.”
For Carey, most of the credit went to Mindak and the Rotary Club. “We can’t thank them enough,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here today if not for them.”
In the spring, Post 107 will be rededicated in honor of its long-time member and former Commander Tom Kennedy, who died in June 2013. Kennedy had also been a Hoboken police officer and a councilman.
This coming Sunday, Feb.1, Post 107 will host its annual Four Chaplains ceremony at 11 a.m. in Church Square Park.
The event honors the sacrifice made by four chaplains on the USAT Dorchester, which was struck by a German torpedo and sunk in 1943. The men, a Catholic priest, a rabbi, and Dutch Reformed minister, and a Methodist minister, each gave their life jackets to other servicemen and went down with the ship.
Big plans for future
With their old home secure, the Legion can look forward to bigger, better plans for the future. In October 2014, the Hoboken City Council passed a resolution in support of a joint plan by the city and Post 107 to replace the current Legion building with a larger structure that includes transitional housing for homeless veterans. Such a structure would elevate the Legion’s meeting hall above the flood plain.
According to Katie Brennan, a representative of affordable housing developer Monarch Housing Associates, the Legion post has “air rights” to build five stories high based on the surrounding area.
Monarch is currently working on conceptual designs for a new Legion building. Brennan said at least some of the cost of a new building could be covered by Sandy relief funds.
Carlo Davis may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.