On Sunday afternoon, a large fire engulfed the John Russell Wheeler VFW Post 1397 on Pennsylvania Railroad Ave. in Linden, NJ. Despite best efforts from the Linden Fire Department and nearby mutual aid units, thick black smoke and flames quickly swept through the century old building.

VFW Post 1397 is located in the heart of the City of Linden, directly across the street from the Amtrak/NJ Transit Northeast corridor line. (Google Maps)
VFW Post 1397 is located in the heart of the City of Linden, directly across the street from the Amtrak/NJ Transit Northeast corridor line. (Google Maps)
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VFW Post 1397 is located in the heart of the City of Linden, directly across the street from the Amtrak/NJ Transit Northeast corridor line. (Google Maps)
VFW Post 1397 is located in the heart of the City of Linden, directly across the street from the Amtrak/NJ Transit Northeast corridor line. (Google Maps)
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At the time of the fire, the bar, catering hall, and upstairs apartments were occupied, according to Linden Police. A 76-year-old man had to be rescued by firefighters after climbing onto a lower roof to escape the flames and smoke. The man was treated for smoke inhalation. All other occupants were evacuated safely, with no major injuries reported.

Mutual aid equipment and manpower was provided by surrounding fire departments, including Clark and Roselle Park. Although the Northeast Corridor rail line is directly across the street from the building, no fire-related service disruptions were reported by NJ Transit or Amtrak.

Despite valiant firefighting efforts by the Linden Fire Department and surrounding towns, most of the building was heavily charred. (John Francis Roman)
Despite valiant firefighting efforts by the Linden Fire Department and surrounding towns, most of the building was heavily charred. (John Francis Roman)
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Officials have said the fire seems to have started in the front of the building. (And photos reveal the historic front half of the facility was charred the most, stretching from ground-level to the roof.) However, the official cause of the fire is under investigation.

Linden's 6th ward councilman, John Francis Roman, posted photos and memories of the historic VFW building on Facebook. It was clearly an active gathering and meeting place for veterans, their families, and the community. And home to countless community events, celebrations, and memorial services.

The New Jersey VFW State Commander, Jay Boxwell of nearby Cranford, NJ, also lamented the loss of the building. "What was lost was a historic building that has become a staple in the Veteran Community in Union County," Boxwell posted on Facebook. "I know you will continue to serve our veterans while you rebuild. We are all here to support and help."

According to the Heroes News Network web site, VFW Post #1397 has over 135 members, including the auxiliary. The two-story commercial facility featured a canteen for members and a bingo hall available for rental.

According to the Linden Observer, the VFW post was named in honor of John Russell Wheeler in 1925. Wheeler was a Linden native and U.S. Marine killed in action during World War I in 1918. A public park and municipal pool complex in Linden also bear his name.

VFW post 1397 fire damage. (John Francis Roman)
VFW post 1397 fire damage. (John Francis Roman)
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A GoFundMe campaign has been set up by Councilman Roman to crowdsource funds to rebuild the VFW building: Help Restore the Linden VFW.

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow Dan's latest forecasts on Facebook or Twitter.

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