Just outside Stanwood’s American Legion Post 92 Thursday, Navy veteran and Post Chaplain Phil Lewis, 85, talks about major work needed on the building, which is only a few years younger than he is. Post Cmdr. Gina Seegert might appear to be suffering from a little sticker shock, considering they need to raise $90,000. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Just outside Stanwood’s American Legion Post 92 Thursday, Navy veteran and Post Chaplain Phil Lewis, 85, talks about major work needed on the building, which is only a few years younger than he is. Post Cmdr. Gina Seegert might appear to be suffering from a little sticker shock, considering they need to raise $90,000. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Veterans who help veterans need help of their own

Stanwood American Legion Post No. 92 is raising money to fix a rotting beam.

The distinct Spanish mission-style building has a past. It was built in 1939, by the Works Progress Administration, as East Stanwood City Hall. More than a piece of history — a place with a past — today it serves a vital purpose. As Stanwood American Legion Post No. 92, it helps veterans in need.

With its volunteer Veteran Service Officers, the post guides people who have served in the military through the paperwork tangle to obtain veterans benefits. The Legion hall hosts monthly prime-rib dinners, and offers bingo and other social opportunities. Members send care packages to local men and women now in the armed forces.

A lifeline for veterans, Stanwood’s Post 92 now has a need of its own.

When it was built, an 80-foot beam made by flattening an old-growth tree was used as a main support. Under a saggy part of the hall’s floor, that beam is rotting. In 2014, the group replaced about 30 feet of it.

Phil Lewis, the 85-year-old chaplain of Post 92, is leading a “Replace the Beam” fundraising project. The goal is $90,000. The money would be used to jack up the building, cut out the existing 2-foot-by-2 foot beam, put a form in place, add rebar, and pour cement to create a new 50-foot concrete beam. Project plans include replacing part of the floor.

Last year, Post 92 members pitched in with $14,000 to fix a leaky roof, said Gina Seegert, 45, an Army veteran and the post commander. In 2015, members raised $11,000 to build a service office where veterans could discuss claims issues in private and their records could be safeguarded.

“We don’t have a bunch of assets left,” Lewis said. Just after the Korean War, while in the Navy from 1953 to 1957, Lewis flew out of Guam as part of an airborne early warning squadron.

Photos and other military mementos line the walls of the spacious hall. There’s a bugle and a pair of combat boots. A Washington “Former Prisoner of War” license plate is framed with a picture of Hersheal Boushey. An Army veteran, he was captured by the Japanese on the Philippine island of Corregidor in 1942 and held in Manchuria as a POW until 1945. He died in 2014 at age 94.

And there are reminders of young men killed in recent wars. Army Spec. Justin Hebert, a 20-year-old from Silvana, died in 2003 while serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Iraq. In 2004, Marine Pfc. Cody Calavan, 19, was killed in a roadside bombing in Iraq’s Anbar Province. The Stanwood man was a Lake Stevens High School graduate. Both are memorialized with pictures in the hall.

Robert Hughes, 71, is a Vietnam veteran and volunteer service officer at Post 92. He knows from his own struggles and from assisting others that war’s effects can be lasting. “You know what these guys are going through,” said Hughes. At Post 92, he guides veterans as they file benefits claims. That process can take a few months or last many years.

“I came here four years ago for help,” said Hughes, an Air Force veteran who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Both are among diseases recognized by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs as being associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides used in the Vietnam War.

Hughes was in Vietnam in 1966 and ’67. With his VA claim approved, he receives a 100 percent disability benefit. Today, he works mostly with other Vietnam veterans.

A helper at Post 92 for several years, last year Hughes was officially trained as a service officer. He works with Leslie O’Bannon, another volunteer veteran service officer whose husband served in the military. “We average about 460 active claims. Every month we see about 170 people,” he said.

After Vietnam, Hughes went to college and worked in California for a probation department and later in computer science. “I had a rough time, but I didn’t associate it with Vietnam,” he said. “They never told us when we left the service what benefits are out there.”

He finds satisfaction helping other veterans. Some are now entering senior living facilities. Even after a veteran has died, a claim effort can continue and a widow may be helped. “Some guys just want to give up,” Hughes said. “We try to convince them not to.”

The building is a survivor, too. According to the Stanwood Area Historical Society, the towns of Stanwood and East Stanwood consolidated in 1960. Two years later, the City Hall building was sold to the American Legion for $10,500. A picture of the post’s original namesake, World War I soldier Frank Hancock, is on display inside. The Stanwood farmer was killed in France on Sept. 26, 1918, less than two months before the war ended.

Lewis, the post chaplain, has officiated at veterans’ funerals. Post 92 has a color guard and joins in Memorial Day commemorations. And every year, hundreds of veterans are helped with claims.

“It’s good camaraderie,” said Seegert, the post commander.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.

How to help

Stanwood American Legion Post No. 92 has launched a “Replace the Beam” fundraising project. A wooden support beam in the 1939 building, formerly East Stanwood City Hall, is rotting. About $90,000 is needed for replacement and renovations. The American Legion is a 501(c)(19) tax-exempt veterans organization. “Replace the Beam” donations may be sent to: Post #92 Treasurer, Renovation Project, P.O. Box 323, Stanwood, WA 98292.

Post No. 92 has veterans service officers to help with benefits claims. It hosts prime-rib dinners, bingo and other social opportunities for veterans. It’s located at 26921 88th Ave. NW in Stanwood. Information: www.stanwoodlegion.org

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