POMONA, Calif. - Nine WWII-era rifles used for ceremonies like the 21-gun salute were swiped from Pomona’s American Legion Post in the latest of a barrage of break-ins that have left the historic building in shambles and destroyed irreplaceable war memorabilia.
On December 30, security cameras captured at least one thief inside the storied building, jumping over a bar.
"We had an ammunition locker that contained 10 M1 Garands that we used for ceremonial purposes - those are all gone," said Javier Hinostroza, Commander of the American Legion Post on Holt Avenue.
The rifles were loaded with blanks, but if an adapter is taken off, live ammunition could be put inside, creating a safety concern for the community.
It was just the latest in a relentless string of burglaries and break-ins since the post closed its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, transients, addicts and thieves have essentially taken over, trashing the building and leaving behind needles, condoms and feces, according to Hinostroza.
"It started small, they would hang out in the front and we’d ask them to leave, they’d leave, then they started testing the boundaries of how the alarm system works, who’s watching it and when," he said.
It quickly escalated into thieves disabling the alarms, ripping doors of hinges, stripping wire from the ceilings and trashing rooms that have hosted veterans for more than 100 years.
The crime got so intense, the organization installed cameras all over the property, which continue to record near-constant criminal activity. But veterans say police can take hours to respond, and their beloved building is being destroyed day by day with seemingly no intervention.
For veterans like Bob Radcliff, who served in Vietnam, it’s more than just the break-ins – it’s the historical value of what’s been lost.
"We had photos here that was actually during WWII," said the US Army Vet standing in a now-darkened room that used to host scores of veterans every day. "You can’t replace any of that stuff, you know?"
He recalled the nightly gatherings that went into the early morning hours - veterans confiding in one another and helping each other through difficult times.
There’s one destroyed artifact that upsets Bob more than the missing rifles – a photo of the Vietnam wall.
"It’s a gentleman standing there, leaning against it and crying. And they just ripped that picture right off the wall, threw it down; the glass broke and they just walked all over top of it like it was just dirt under their feet. Didn’t mean a thing to them, no feeling at all," he said. "I don’t know how else to put it. These are my brothers and you mess with my brothers, you’re going to mess with me."
The Post is asking for help so they can continue serving veterans in the area. For more information on what you can do, email Javier.Hino@americanlegionpomona30.org.