'There were potentially fellow veterans in need'

Virginia Legionnaire John Ragsdale has seen what a hurricane can do. He and his wife Wanda Covington-Ragsdale, a fellow member and American Legion Rider at Post 320 in Spotsylvania, survived Hurricane Katrina.

So when John and Wanda saw that Hurricane Dorian was going to impact the area – and possibly fellow veterans – they wanted to do something. Wanting became doing, as the two helped spearhead donations of food and other supplies from the Virginia American Legion Family to a Legion post in North Carolina. And it all happened during American Legion National Commander Bill Oxford’s visit to Virginia, not long after Oxford had urged Legionnaires to stand ready to assist those impacted by Dorian.

“We know the devastation a hurricane can deliver and the hopelessness you feel the day after the storm,” John said. “We didn’t want anybody to feel that way if there was anything we could do alleviate some pain for another veteran, another Legionnaire, another brother and sister.”

Ragsdale shared his idea with 12th District Commander Tim Walters, who also is a member of Post 320 and a Legion Rider, and then spoke to Department of Virginia Commander A.B. Brown, who was on board immediately and shared it with fellow department leadership traveling with the national commander during his visit.

“They all thought it was a great idea,” Brown said. “Everything expanded from that on how to make it happen. The Virginia team came up with this idea … I couldn’t tell you how proud I was.”

Led by Ragsdale and Walters, Post 320 was able to collect a truck full of supplies and then brought them to Post 284 in Colonial Heights, which had staged its own donation drive. The Colonial Heights donations, all of which came from Post 284 Legion Family members, filled the SUV of Post Commander Adrian “Skip” Klaas, who drove it more than 100 miles to Rocky Mount, N.C., to deliver.

Klaas, who was part of an American Legion Riders escort for Oxford during his visit, wasn’t surprised his post’s Legion Family responded to Dorian the way it did. “We’ve had a very good history of responding to this sort of thing, especially on short notice,” he said. “There were potentially fellow veterans in need, and we wanted to try to help them.”

The two truckloads of supplies were delivered via a group that included Ragsdale and his wife, the national commander, Legion Riders, Brown, Virginia National Executive Committeeman Mike Mitrione and Virginia Department Adjutant Dale Chapman.

Waiting for the donation at Coleman-Pitt Post 58 in Rocky Mount were local and state Legion leaders, including Department of North Carolina Commander James D. Moore and Department Adjutant Tierian “Randy” Cash. Moore said that while the area was lucky, getting mostly rain and wind, he was really happy to see his fellow Legion Family members from a neighboring state.

“I welcomed it, because we really didn’t know how many people in the area would be needing help,” Moore said. “The (donated) food itself was able to go to the Red Cross and other agencies in the area to help people who did need the help.”

Moore said the donation was a good representation of what The American Legion did, comparing it to when the Legion provided more than $1 million in grants to Coast Guard families impacted by last winter’s government shutdown.

“The American Legion stepped up to help them. It was veterans helping veterans,” Moore said. “That’s something that The American Legion will always do. That’s something very, very important.”

Being able to deliver the donation was special to Brown.

“I’m very proud,” said Brown of his department’s Legionnaires. “In fact, I thought this was one of the greatest things since sliced bread. We had a negative situation, and we turned it into a positive. I was very excited about this whole thing.”

It was also special for John and Wanda. “To be honest with you, we both had tears in our eyes,” John said. “When the other Legionnaires stepped up and said ‘guys, we can help you take care of this,’ it was a godsend. It spoke volumes to what Legionnaires stand for, from the top all the way down to the bottom. Commander Oxford took time out of his schedule to say ‘we can help each other.’”

Oxford said the effort "was about what we do and who we are. The people in Virginia, they made the commitment, they took the effort, they collected the supplies. And I was just fortunate to be in Virginia and able to participate in that caravan to represent the national organization.

"It was just one of those happenstances that worked out. It was one department realizing the need and making the commitment to help their fellow Legionnaires."

John and Wanda are relatively new Legionnaires, having just joined in the past few months. John said the pair became interested in joining after spending the past Veterans Day in New York City with Legionnaire Peter De Angelis, a member of Post 1636 in Brooklyn who took the couple under his wing, providing a tour of the city and opening his home up to them.

“In this timeframe my wife and I have been able to accomplish a little bit, but I don’t think we’re done yet,” John said. “There are still veterans to serve, and there are Legionnaires out there who need help. That’s what we’re here for.”

National Emergency Fund

National Emergency Fund

When natural disasters like tornadoes, floods or wildfires strike, The American Legion’s National Emergency Fund swiftly delivers needed money to veterans in their communities.