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Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • Legion hall collapses to rubble in BJ

  • It took only a few seconds around suppertime on Sunday for decades of tradition and history to crash into rubble along Main Street in Burlington Junction.
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  • It took only a few seconds around suppertime on Sunday for decades of tradition and history to crash into rubble along Main Street in Burlington Junction.
    After a sort of shifting rumble, the town's venerable American Legion hall, home of Rolla Dicks Post 315, simply collapsed, destroying at least a third of the building.
    The structure was empty when it fell, and no injuries were reported.
    "We knew it was going to happen, we just didn't know when," said Legion member Bill Yates over coffee Monday morning at the Kiss My Grits Kafe, a diner located across the street from the ruined building. Yates served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
    Nodaway County Sheriff's Department officers responded to the scene shortly after the structure fell, according to Deputy Don Saunders, a Rolla Dicks member who joined the post in the 1980s after a 25-year U.S. Army career that included two tours of duty in Vietnam.
    Saunders said he suspected the collapse was simply caused by building fatigue.
    He added that  Post Commander Marlin Slagle, who was out of town Monday, has been in touch with the organization's insurance company.
    Post members will likely start talking about what to do next during the organization's regular monthly meeting this Thursday, Saunders aid. The gathering will take place at 7 P.M. — a half-hour earlier than usual — at the Burlington Junction United Methodist Church.
    According to Saunders, the old hall at one time housed a furniture store but had served as the Legion's home since at least the 1940s. The post itself was founded in the 1920s and named for Pvt. Rolla Dicks, a World War I soldier and Burlington native who died in 1918.
    Also sitting in Kiss My Grits Monday was former Post 315 Commander Charles Bragg.
    Bragg saw combat in the Philippines during World War II before joining the American occupation force in Japan, where he was a member of a demolition unit charged with blowing up surrendered tanks and guns.
    Like Yates, Bragg said there were indications that the aging brick building, much of which had been covered with exterior plaster, was on its last legs.
    While on his way to Shenandoah, Iowa, around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Bragg said he noticed that a section of brickwork, perhaps six feet by ten feet, had crumbled away from the structure's east wall. He didn't think much about it and went on his way.
    "I didn't have any idea that it would collapse," he said.
    Age-worn and down-at-the-heels, the old hall was nevertheless a cheerful, welcoming place on the inside, redolent with the smell of countless chili suppers, ham-and-bean dinners and biscuits-and-gravy breakfasts. The walls were crammed with old charters and plaques, souvenirs and photographs of past commanders.
    Page 2 of 2 - As is traditional across northwest Missouri, the Legion building was also a repository for group photos of graduating high school classes going back to at least the 1930s. In Burlington Junction, these included images of students from both "BJ" and long-closed Quitman High School.
    "I think those are probably all destroyed," Bragg said.
    "The pictures, that's what bothers me," said Jane Bragg, Charles' wife, who stood on the sidewalk for several minutes looking at the wrecked building as her husband finished his coffee.
    Legion Auxiliary member Tammy Mather said she believed Legionnaires were able to salvage flags and some other items Sunday evening, especially along the building's west wall.  
    "I have no idea what they're going to do," said Yates when asked if the organization had formed any plans now that its meeting place is no more. "There was supposed to be a ham-and-bean dinner there Friday night."
    Even though Burlington Junction has a population of fewer than 600 people, Post 315 boasts a membership of more than 80 veterans as well as an active women's auxiliary.
    In November 2011, the post played host to American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong, who addressed about 50 Legionnaires along with their spouses and guests.
    Earlier that year, after a successful fundraising drive, the group dedicated a bronze "battlefield cross" in front of the hall. The sculpture, still standing after the collapse, depicts a modern assault rifle, bayonet attached, stuck barrel-first into the ground and topped by an infantry helmet.
    A familiar symbol to Americans since the Vietnam War, the display represents the honor and respect to be accorded soldiers who have fallen in battle.
    Also still standing in front of the rubble is a small marble monument bearing the symbols of all six service branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines) and the words, "So that we may never forget our veterans' sacrifices."
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