"The people are the most important," said Mabel American Legion Commander Ralph Schneekloth as he reflected on his years as a tank crewman in the U.S. Army. Schneekloth served in the U.S Army for nearly 13 years and then served three years in the National Guard.

He went active in the military directly after graduating Mabel-Canton High School in 1983 and served as a tank crewman. His military career included service at Fort Knox, West Germany, Fort Lewis, Fort Hood and in South Korea.

"It is never (about) a single, one person," Schneekloth said about his work as a tank crewman in the army. "On the tanks (we had) four people (and) everyone works together to get the job done...everything is done for a reason. I liked it and did it as long as I could."

Schneekloth served toward the end of the Cold War. While he was not directly involved in any combat situations, he recalled major events such as the 1983 marine barrack bombing in Beirut, the 1986 Berlin bombing and the resulting airstrikes against Libya, service near the demilitarized zone in South Korea and supporting Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War.

"There were small terrorist actions going on then with the Red Army Faction," said Schneekloth about his tour of duty in West Germany. The Red Army Faction was a leftist German militant group. "They would murder people - soldiers and airmen every now and then - steal their ID cards and get on the air base in Frankfurt (Germany) and blow stuff up."

Schneekloth also supported operations during the Gulf War in 1990. "I trained soldiers that had gotten out (of the military) and got called back up on the M1A1 Tank, so that they would be proficient when they sent them to Germany to fill in the spots that deployed to the (Persian) Gulf."

Schneekloth said he worked his way up and filled all the positions on the tank - from driver, loader, gunner and tank commander - at one time or another in his military career. He said it was an "awesome responsibility. I just did my job."

Schneekloth's highest rank was a sergeant and he also received a number of army commendation and achievement medals along with overseas service and good conduct medals.

"I learned confidence," Schneekloth said.

Since Schneekloth left the military, he retuned to school, got married and started a family. He currently resides northwest of Mabel where he raises rabbits and keeps honeybees.

"Life is good...I like working in the (American) Legion.... I like to get the Legion message out there that we are still serving America," he added. "The Legion is not just the post bar - it is about being a part of an organization. It is the largest veterans organization (and is about being) a part of something that is bigger than yourself.... We do support the community."

Schneekloth is also a member of the Mabel VFW and Disabled American Veterans. He has been post commander for the past year and a half. Presently, the American Legion post in Mabel has 213 members.

"We are about the largest post in Fillmore County, membership wise," Schneekloth said.

Catching up with old friends from the military on Facebook is something Schneekloth said he has greatly enjoyed in the recent past, along with the fellowship at the Legion in Mabel.

"It is something that is always there. It is there; it is in your memories," Schneekloth said of his time in the military. "Just proud to have served, I take great pride in it and I hope everybody is proud of the country. When you see a soldier, airmen or marine...don't be afraid, just say thanks."

A Veterans Day program will be presented at both Mabel-Canton and North Winneshiek schools on Monday, Nov. 11. The program at North Winneshiek starts at 8:30 a.m., while the Mabel-Canton program starts at 10:30 a.m. The program will feature the high school band, the American Legion/ VFW Color Guard and a speech from Mabel Legion Chaplain Eddie Macha.