Folks in American Legion Halls don’t typically get all sentimental in my experience. But a get together at Post 221 in Niceville this September was a tad different.
“It’s a bit of a tear jerker, man. She talking about the kids and last Christmas,” remembers Joe Aikens; “there wasn’t a dry eye in the building.”
The American Legion District 1 members and riders were able to raise more than $20,000 for the victims of the tornadoes that ripped through the western portion of Kentucky at the end of 2021.
Support the members of Post 21 and the residents of the town of Mayfield didn’t want to go without a thank you.
9,823 people live in the small town of Mayfield, Kentucky – nestled in the far western portion of the Bluegrass state – between Tennessee to the south, Illinois to the north and Missouri to the West.
On a December night in 2021, four tornadoes ripped through the town. Tracy Guge, a resident of the town, replays what happened constantly. “Four tornadoes went through that night. Three tornadoes went before the large one came through.”
Normally, in a Legion bar room, you can hear the chatter at the bar and the crack of pool balls. The only noise in the room besides the voices of Tracy and her husband while they talked about what happened – the nervous shifting of beer caps on the tables.
“The tornado was 250 miles wide. It was the largest ever recorded in the state,” Tracy’s husband and American Legion Post Comander Wendell told the group. “It’s my hometown. I grew up there. I’m 53 years old… My family is there, my friends are there.”
Tracy remembers the most painful scene of the whole event – a man scrounging through the ruins of his home for his child’s Christmas presents. “Kids were going without,” the retired police officer said, “they were just in tears. We did not want them to have the Christmas that we as adults were having.”
So when, Mark, the Commander of the Niceville Legion Post called to ask how they could help – the Guge’s knew the answer. “We don’t care about rebuilding right now,” Tracy said, “we want hope for these kids and we want hope for our community. We’ll take care of ourselves later.”
More than 5,000 people in Graves County, Kentucky are still displaced from the storm, according to Wendell.
“Y’all came big,” Tracy said to the American Legion Riders in the audience, “There was a lot of Christmas for little kids. And with the money that y’all sent to us – people forgot [kids] 12 and above.”
So with the money that vets in northwest Florida raised, the members of Legion Post 26 in Mayfield bought Christmas for those kids.
All in all, more than 600 kids got two presents a piece from donors. The riders here ensured that 352 teenagers got presents, too.
“I know how to spend money,” Tracy said, “but y’all don’t know how hard it is to spend $20,000. It took me three trips to get it all done.”
At the end, District 1 Riders Director, Andrew Mercer, also known as Tiny by his fellow Legionnaires, gave an additional $2,000 check for them to take with them back to Kentucky.