Pennsylvania post has mission to 'revive the community in the fact that freedom is not free'
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Pennsylvania post has mission to 'revive the community in the fact that freedom is not free'

Since being chartered 10 years ago, American Legion Post 903 in Mount Pocono, Pa., has been “ a gypsy post … living out of a van almost 10 years,” according to Post Commander Charles Hamberger. “We had stuff all over the place. I said, ‘It’s time to get out of the garages and back seats of everybody’s car and get ourselves a home.'"

So last summer, Post 903 bought the former St. Mary’s of the Mount Church and Rectory, with plans to turn the rectory into a post home that would include office space for other veterans service organizations (VSOs) and temporary housing for homeless veterans.

But the post’s original plans have since grown. The actual church portion of the property will eventually become The Thomas Bowditch Veteran Education Center and Museum, named for the post’s late commander who passed away in February 2020.

The plan is for the museum to house U.S military equipment from various war eras and conflicts, along with a replica of the wall from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. An exhibit space will be created to honor Monroe County veterans, along with a wall display listing the names of every conflict or war the United States has been involved in during its history.

“People tend to forget,” Hamberger said. “They think of the big (wars), but they don’t remember the small incidents. Everything we have in this country, we, the citizens of this country, have fought to get and to maintain. It’s important that we revive the community in the fact that freedom is not free.”

The church was built in 1908 but has been abandoned for seven years and is in need of extensive repairs and renovations to be brought up to code before the museum can open. Post 903 is soliciting donations for the repairs and also is looking for those who want to donate items for display in the museum, as well as display cases, lighting and other items.

“We intend to use everything we can at our disposal to enhance the ambience of the place,” Hamberger said. “We’re going to get it done. It’s a matter when we’re going to do it and how we’re going to get it done. It’s going to be a place where people are going to say they’re proud to be a member of our community.”

A kitchen is planned for the basement of the church, along with a café conference room to allow members of the community to use for funeral repasts and receptions at no charge. Local groups such as the Boy Scouts will be offered meeting space in the facility.

Meanwhile, the rectory will serve as a home to both the post and to the Monroe County Joint Veterans Honor Guard, of which Post 903 was a key to its formation. The rectory also will allow Post 903 to offer office space to other VSOs. Doing so, Hamberger said, will “help us support the activities that we’re doing. We all reach out in different directions. These are organizations that all help veterans. Today you have to pick up the phone and call someone. (In the rectory) I can reach out and put a note in their mailbox. It makes it easier for me to communicate with all the people I need to get in touch with.”

And another plan for the rectory is to provide living space for homeless veterans in need of transitional housing. “We can’t take a lot, but we’re going to have an availability to assist the community,” said Hamberger.

“I think it will enhance our livelihood in the Mount Pocono area. We happen to be in Monroe County, which they call a ‘resort community.’ Because of that, we’ll have a lot of people (coming to the museum). We’ll have a place that we wanted to make an icon, which this will definitely do.

“I guess you could say this is who we are. We all are (veterans) who have had our time in service and are now looking to give back to the community and to our brethren.”

Hamberger said the museum and education center’s namesake “is smiling now. Tom and I worked on this project, getting these two buildings, for about three and a half to four years. He was 100 percent for this.”

For more information about the proposed museum, visit Post 903’s website.