Fire Marshals in Levelland are still investigating the cause of the blaze which destroyed the the old Veterans of Foreign Wars Building on Tuesday night. Levelland Fire responded to the call at the building, which is located near I-114 and Avenue T at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Levelland Fire Chief Bill Durham said that over 20 firefighters battled that fire until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, returning again later that morning to put out smaller “hot-spots” which came up.
“It is a complete loss. We wound up running three two-engines, a grass-engine and a ladder truck out here,” Durham said. He added that the building was unoccupied at the time of the fire and that no one was injured in the fire.
Durham said that while the building was most recently an event center, which could be rented out for private events. But over a decade ago, it was a VFW building. Durham visited the building as a child because his father was a VFW member.
“It’s been here a lot longer than I have,” said Durham who has lived in Levelland for 47 years. Durham referred to the building as a “landmark for Levelland” and said many people had driven by the burning building to ask about the damage.
One of the people who heard about the damage Tuesday was James Rankin, the Veterans Services Officer for Hockley County. Rankin had never been in the building during the over sixty years he’s lived in Levelland, but as a child he would play in the park which borders the building.
“Usually after five o’ clock the cars started parking here and the guys would come in, I have seen the whole parking lot full and that was 25 years ago and it’s just kind of heartbreaking to see something like this go away,” Rankin said as he stood in the empty parking lot near the building.
He explained that for many veterans and their wives in the Levelland community, the building was an important place to gather for social time.
“It’s important for a veteran to have a place to express himself in a way that people understand, some of the veterans deal with things that you couldn’t imagine, that a lot of people couldn’t imagine, but that’s part of war,” Rankin said.
He added that while almost a decade ago, the count of veterans in Hockley County was up to 1,700, he imagines that number has since decreased as many older veterans have passed away. Rankin said that after the VFW building in Levelland closed veterans would go to the VFW building in Brownfield instead. He said that now most of the veterans he works with will meet one another at the Senior Center or in support groups to connect.
Rankin, who provides assistance to many local veterans explained that it’s important to offer extra support to those who have gone through combat, because their experiences in war can make them feel isolated.
He said that while the VFW existed in Levelland, it played a big role in giving a community to those who served our country.
“The veterans in Levelland, they’re a great group of guys. I’ve met nearly all of them I work with nearly all of them, and we can’t say ‘thank you’ enough for their sacrifices,” Rankin said.
He added that Veterans Services will be hosting a ceremony Monday (Memorial Day) to honor those who gave their lives in service of the U.S. Anyone is welcome to attend the ceremony which will be held at George Price Funeral Home in Levelland at 10 a.m.