American Legion Looks for New Home

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On Memorial Day, veteran and American Legion Post 12 Commander Gary Casteel, couldn't help but feel a little disrespected.

"Our military's never let us down once," he said. "But our leaders have let our military down a lot."

Casteel says he can't help but feel like the City of Lansing has let his post down. Post 12 has been looking for a space to call home since Lansing tore down the Veterans Memorial Civic Center in favor of a parking lot.

Since, Casteel said, things fell through on an agreement to use the Lansing Center. An old, unused fire station that the Legion had its eye on was sold for residential use this month.

The Legion put in a $1 bid, Casteel said, but never heard back.

"And then all of a sudden we read in the paper that it had been sold out from under us," he said. "So that was another kick in the teeth to us."

Now, the post is taking matters into its own hands, creating a website to solicit donations, in hopes of buying a piece of property on its own.

"We should honor them," said veteran and legion member Victor Diaz, who helped start the website, "and honor them by helping us, helping us help ourselves and continue to serve by donating."

Diaz hopes to raise $500,000 to put toward a new space. The Legion has a couple locations in mind, Casteel said, but doesn't want to disclose them until they've been more thoroughly checked out.

"They're losing their right to be, because they need a site," said Diaz. "They need a house, a home, a place where they can hold meetings, but also do the things they do so well, like train boy scouts."

The Lansing City Council appears to be on board as well. The council unanimously passed a resolution this month, pushing the mayor to continue to work with the Legion to find a permanent home.

Mayor Virg Bernero offered the Legion space at the Miller Road Community Center in February, according to Casteel and several city council members, but Casteel turned it down, citing rusted pipes, a leaky roof, asbestos and inadequate space in the kitchen and the parking lot.

"It would have cost us all the money that we had to get the asbestos out of there," he said.

First ward council member Jody Washington says many of her colleagues feel left in the dark as to what the Legion actually wants.

"They haven't been clear in what they're looking for in a space, they have just merely said that they want a space," she said. "They need to be forthcoming with their needs and wants so that an appropriate place can be found."

The old fire station was sold to a young couple for residential use because that's what the neighborhood requested, she said. Plus, the city can't afford to give away its assets for the $1 the Legion bid she said.

But that shouldn't be confused for an anti-veteran attitude, she said.

"Nobody wants to be against the veterans," she said. "We love them. I mean our very way of life is only because of them and we want to make sure they know how much we appreciate them, as does everyone else."

Appreciated isn't the way Casteel says he's feeling at the moment. He says his members feel overlooked.

"We're asking for help, because we're floundering right now," he said. "Help us. We've done 95 years here. We want to put in another 95."

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