A property manager in Los Angeles heard the plea of American Legion Post 42 in Ocean Springs and has offered the veterans a home in Sea Shores Plaza on U.S. 90.
Lori Miller, with Sea Shores Los Angeles, read on SunHerald.com that Post 42 and its veterans have no home — no building to call their own — and are fast outgrowing their monthly meeting place at the Ocean Springs Senior Center. They want a place to socialize, tell war stories, play pool and have potluck meals.
It all came to light last week when Post 42 begged a developer not to tear down the old gas station at the Winn-Dixie shopping center in hopes they could move in there. These are veterans — some young, many older — who organize to help each other and enhance the community they live in.
Speaking from the L.A. office, Miller said, “We want to help.”
She told the Sun Herald, “We have shopping centers in Mississippi. It doesn’t matter that we’re 1,500 miles away. This concerns us. These guys need a place to meet.”
She said her grandfather served in World War I and she still has his ring. She said her father was in the Navy in World War II and Korea and her mother served in the Army.
“We’re all in this together,” she said.
Post 42 was glad to get the call.
Tuesday night, veteran Ivan McAllister talked by phone with Miller. Early Wednesday morning, he and Post Commander Sandy Reid and building committee member Carl King checked out the empty space — 2,400 square feet in one shop and a 1,200-square-foot spot that used to be a pizza parlor.
“This is a nice size,” Reid said, peering into the storefront windows. She was excited at the thought of having even a temporary space to call home. “We could get all 151 of us in there, I think.”
It’s so important, she said. “Posts that socialize are tighter, have camaraderie. They can do more. We’ve got the take the first step.”
“It’s worth checking out,” McAllister said, but added, “The pressure to rent might be a problem.”
Miller offered the Sea Shores location saying, “we’ll work with them.” The post doesn’t have an income stream, so the members are going to have to give renting a shopping center space serious consideration, and these are men and women who know how to give an idea intense scrutiny.
This post, founded in 1919, almost died in the 1990s when membership drifted away and the post hut at Marble Springs on Iberville Drive was demolished. In 2002, former legislator Robert Endt and local businessman Fred Lemon started over with 10 members. Today, membership for the main post alone is 151. Attached to it is an auxiliary and a Sons of the American Legion group for relatives of veterans. Collectively, they’ve become quite a force.
Still, they’re homeless with no place to store their belongings. For years, they’ve had only a place to hold monthly meetings. Most mornings, they gather at a row of tables at a Whataburger restaurant to visit and kick around business — banquet planning, improvements at the veterans memorial at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center, Christmas parties, the first veterans’ parade in Ocean Springs since 1927, planned for this year in October.
They hand out flags to first-graders, teach flag etiquette, fund community work beyond their organization and put in thousands of hours at the Veterans Administration hospital.
McAllister is the post’s best business mind and leader of the building committee. He’s 86, he’s a negotiator and he’s on it. Another possibility would be building on donated property with grant money.
McAllister is keeping the future in mind. He’s ambitious for good reason. He sees the post growing as new veterans from the desert wars join and bring their families to events.
While checking out the shopping center Wednesday, he turned and looked at the huge space Delchamps abandoned years ago in Sea Shores Plaza.
With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “I don’t suppose we could talk her into letting us have the grocery store space.”