The National weather service issued a Tornado warning at 9:26 pm for Graves County, Kentucky. Within the county was the little town of Mayfield that would soon suffer a direct hit from the mammoth EF-4 wedge tornado. It destroyed their historic Main Street, killing 22 people and severely injuring hundreds more. All this taking place on an unseasonably warm late Friday evening, December 10th, 2021.
The American Legion Post 26, located in the heart of Downtown Mayfield, suffered extensive and non-repairable damage. Built in 1923, the building housed the Legion meeting rooms on the ground floor, a basketball court and theater on the second floor and the theaters balcony on the 3rd floor. For over 90 years, this American Legion was home to generations of Veterans from WWI to Post 9/11 Veterans and their families.
In speaking with Commander Wendell Guge, 3 days after the tornado, he was still trying to get his bearings in a town where he had grown up. “I don’t recognize anything, everything is gone.” And while he had yet to process the loss of their Post’s historic building, Wendall was much more concerned for the people of Mayfield, finding the missing, and using Post resources to help feed and clothe those who had lost everything.
When standing in the Post’s 100-seat theater looking out through the open space where it once was occupied by the indoor movie screen, “The destruction was just overwhelming,” commented Commander Guge. But then his attention turned from the material to the human destruction both in injury and loss. So many were displaced and needed immediate help. His employer, a local Ford dealership, offered their warehouse to stage supplies needed for the recovery effort and it quickly became a distribution site for the Post. Supplies poured in from near and far with at least 25 states participating and the warehouse was quickly overwhelmed with aid. Many of the sister American Legion Posts around the neighboring states also sent trailer loads of supplies.
Since the Post’s historic building is no longer safe or suitable as a meeting place, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), DAV (Disabled American Veterans), and the American Legion’s 149 members all temporarily share space at the DAV’s building. Commander Guge said, “The current Post’s building is scheduled to be leveled and the Post will not rebuild on that site.” Instead, they are planning on a new building that will be designed to better suit their needs. One of the Post’s goals is to also build efficiency apartments to temporarily house veterans and their families. “It has always been a goal of the Post’s to help provide housing, and now that just may have to become a reality soon,” Guge said.
“In the current environment, there is a lack of building raw materials, supplies, and manpower,” Commander Guge commented. The priorities for Mayfield are to repair and rebuild the homes and business lost. Therefore, rebuilding the American Legion Post is at the bottom of the priority list and he doesn’t know when they will rebuild. In all the destruction and loss, the one thing for him that did stand out was how the town came together without anyone being asked to help, they just did! Hope and the human spirit are alive and well…and Mayfield Kentucky is thankful for that!
*This story was first published in the SUMMER 2022 issue of ©AT EASE! Veterans Magazine. All Rights Reserved.