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Donna, Texas, American Legion hall is the oldest of them all

By FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ | The Monitor, McAllen, Texas | Published: November 11, 2019

DONNA, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Joe A. Segura is a very busy man.

When he is not organizing meetings and events for his post, he can be found assisting his fellow veterans by providing transportation to and from doctor appointments, meetings and other commitments.

That is part of the responsibility that comes with being commander of an American Legion post.

But Segura is not commander of just any post; he oversees the American Legion with the oldest hall in the world: American Legion Border Post 107 in Donna.

Construction of the post began in 1919, and it was dedicated in 1920. The historic building sits at the corner of South Main Street and Silver Avenue. White paint coats its bricks, made by World War I veterans from Donna using sand from the river bottom. A sign is posted just outside the entrance of the building marking its declaration as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1964.

Inside the hall, not much has changed save for some refurbishments through the years. The original wooden floor now sits beneath a layer of concrete. It’s a modest structure, appearing strong in stature but humble in design, and emits an old, familiar smell that suggests its walls have plenty of stories to tell.

The back wall had to be replaced after members of the Texas National Guard used the inside of the hall as a firing range during the Cuban Missile Crisis after World War II.

But looking up at the ceiling gives one a glimpse into the past as the original wooden beams still support the roof.

“The Donna Border Post 107 has the oldest American Legion hall in the world that is owned, built and operated by veterans,” Segura said last week. “It was built in 1919, and it will be 100 years old in the latter part of December of this year.”

Segura is in his seventh year as commander of the post, a position that keeps him occupied with seemingly endless responsibilities.

“You have to be able to address the veterans, all of their problems and situations. We try to help them every way that we can,” Segura said. “That’s what it’s all about. Every veterans organization has its veterans that need help, that need assistance to go to their appointments. A lot of them don’t have a ride, so they need to find someone that will take them. Especially if they’re going to go all the way to Harlingen. We take them in our private vehicles so that they will be able to keep their appointments.”

The services provided by the post are not exclusive to veterans. Members of the post also dedicate much of their time to helping their community. One such example is an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast fundraiser that the post is sponsoring to help raise money to send high school juniors to Boys State and Girls State, a summer program that teaches high school students about leadership and government.

“It’s good for us to be able to do things like that,” Segura added.

Segura grew up in Donna, and can recall visiting the old hall in his youth, where he attended dances, long before he ever imagined becoming commander there.

“I really didn’t know what this was. I thought it was just a dance hall because most of the stuff was taken down for the dances,” Segura recalled. “They didn’t want their pictures and stuff to get damaged, so they were put away.”

After graduating from Donna High School, his family traveled to California where they picked potatoes. It was there that he would receive his draft notice. He went back to Texas and joined the Marine Corps, and he was then sent back to California for boot camp.

“My MOS, or job description, should’ve been tanks. I was supposed to be a tanker. But when I got to Vietnam, the tank divisions were saturated with people,” Segura said. “They just pointed me to a staff sergeant standing off to the side and said, ‘You report to him.’ He gave me an M14 with a scope, and he told me, ‘You will be learning how to be a spotter for me.’ He was a sniper. I became the spotter for him. I did that for three months. He rotated, came back to the states, and I automatically became the sniper.”

Segura served as a Marine Corps sniper for three tours of Vietnam, a total of 39 months. During the course of his stint in Vietnam, Segura was awarded three Purple Hearts in addition to a Bronze Star.

“I was wounded in combat three times, and I got my Bronze Star with a ‘V’ for valor,” Segura said. “It was for an act that I performed where I helped pull guys out of a burning bunker.”

Segura served eight-and-a-half years with the Marine Corps. He said that he intended to make it a career, but “the good Lord and common sense” dissuaded him from pursuing that path.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Segura went back to California. He moved to a town called Sanger, located in Fresno County. In 1981, he moved to Santa Maria, California and started his own oilfield remediation company. During his time in California, he helped establish the Vietnam Veterans Association.

It was nearly 50 years before he returned to his hometown of Donna in 2008. He’s since been a member of the post, which is currently composed of 87 members.

“I am very proud to be the commander of this post, mainly because of the membership that we have,” Segura said. “They’re all outstanding citizens of this city. We have very good, professional people who are members of this organization, and I am proud to represent them anywhere and at anytime. I try to promote our building because this place is a jewel.”

fjimenez@themonitor.com

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