Philadelphia

American Flag, Mementos of Hope Emerge After Devastating Memorial Day Fire at American Legion Post

After a tragic Memorial Day, signs of hope are emerging from the rubble of a Philadelphia American Legion Post that was devastated by a massive fire.

A four-alarm fire ripped through the American Legion Post 396 building on 2369 Orthodox Street around 2:45 p.m. Monday. Members of the post told NBC10 an electrical fire started in a dumbwaiter in the back corner of the building during an annual Memorial Day banquet. More than 100 firefighters responded to the blaze.

By the time crews brought the flames under control over two hours later, many of the items inside the building, which housed 98 years of military history, were destroyed. [[381606621, C]]

"It breaks your heart," said Pat Driscoll, the Commander of the American Legion Post. "It's a place where the veterans can go and they have fun and now we have nothing right now."

Driscoll, a former marine, has been a member of the post for decades.

"We have a lot of uniforms from World War II, and Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force," he said.

Yet while many of the items perished in the flames, mementos of hope began to emerge. It started with a firefighter who managed to grab two American flags in a photo that quickly spread on social media.

"Whether it was a flag or it was something else from inside somebody's house, you can give a little closure to someone's day," said firefighter Kevin Walter.

"It makes you proud to go to work everyday to be able to help someone out," said Walter.

As members of the post searched through the fire's aftermath, more items were found.

There was the 1918 portrait of the building's namesake, Private Boleslaw Grochowski, the first soldier from Bridgesburg to be killed in World War I.

"This is the most important thing to us," said Pat Love, a member of the post. "I hope and pray that we can get this portrait restored and hang it back up in this field of honor."

NBC10
Several items, including a 1918 portrait of Private Boleslaw Grochowski, the building's namesake, emerged after the fire.

Demolition and firefighters also found a donated purple heart and three antique rifles.

The post isn't safe to enter but Driscoll and Love say that may change when crews start to take the building down.

"We have a memorial wall up in there that we haven't been able to look at yet," Love said.

Love told NBC10 they'll continue to search for items inside the building as long as they can.

"Not being able to pull everything out of there," he said. "That's like leaving one of our fallen comrades behind."

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