Dave Knoell got his orders.
These orders weren’t given in the military, though.
Knoell, who lives in Hooper, had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force for less than two weeks when he got a phone call.
It was 1972 and the caller was Doug Bruner of Nickerson.
Knoell and Bruner had grown up together. Bruner had served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
“You’re joining the VFW,” Bruner said.
Knoell took those orders seriously.
And he’s been a member ever since.
Knoell is a member of the David Hargens Post 10535 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Hooper.
Like many other veterans, Knoell is still serving his country and community years after he ever donned a military uniform.
Pancake feed fundraisers and programs have replaced overseas service for these veterans, but they have a mission — to help strengthen their communities, to help people remember and support those who’ve served — and continue to serve—in the military and to help preserve the freedoms for which many have given their lives.
David Hargens — from whom the post gets its name — was the only man from Nickerson who died in the Vietnam War. In May 1969, Hargens was in an engineer combat group when his convoy was attacked and he was shot and killed. He just 19 years old.
Originally, the David Hargens post was in Nickerson.
“But over the years, the post got smaller, so we joined with Hooper and kept their post number, but took on our post name. So we’ve got members from both,” Knoell said.
Knoell estimates the group has about 70 members.
“I’m probably pretty close to one of the youngest ones (members) in the organization,” Knoell said. “Most of these guys are in their upper 70s and 80s.”
The same is true of the American Legion Post 18 of which Knoell is also a member.
It’s tough to get younger members.
Many are busy. Some are not interested or ready to join.
“Someday, they might – hopefully before us old folks die off,” he said, grinning.
Knoell cites the benefits of being a VFW or Legion member. For one, they can get veterans discounts, scholarships for children or grandchildren and medical benefits.
“There’s a lot of benefits by being in the organizations that you can cash in on,” he said. “There are benefits you can get by just being a veteran, but it helps to be in the organization.”
And there’s fellowship.
Veterans get together for coffee and camaraderie every weekday morning at the VFW club building in downtown Hooper.
They have community pancake feeds each year to raise funds for the group’s own expenses and also offers the event to other local groups to help raise money.
The downtown building is used for many functions such as graduation receptions and the community Fourth of July breakfast.
Hunter safety courses and Pheasants Forever meetings are held here, too.
In addition, VFW and American Legion members combine to provide honor and color guards for funerals and various functions, such as school programs and football games.
The VFW also hosts a Voice of Democracy program at Logan View. Younger students write essays, while older ones give speeches with the goal of advancing to different levels for scholarships.
Knoell said the VFW also donates funds for various causes such as the Civil Air Patrol, hunter safety courses, volunteer fire departments and post prom events.
“We’re a small post,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of money, but we try to spread it around if we can.”
The Hooper post will have a fundraising pancake feed — open to the public — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 18 in the VFW building at 108 N. Main St. A freewill offering will be accepted.
Each spring, the post also hosts a pancake feed for residents of veterans’ homes in Norfolk and Bellevue.
The residents are brought from these homes to the Hooper post for the meal, presentations and a chance for fellowship with local veterans.
“They have a good time,” Knoell said. “It’s a good outing for them.”
Knoell is pleased about work that’s taken place in the VFW building during two past weekends.
Through the Sears Heroes at Home program and Rebuilding Together, Platte Valley East, renovations and repairs are being made to the structure.
Volunteers gathered on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 to work on flooring replacement, debris removal and building repairs.
Logan View High School students tore out old carpet and laid new durable flooring. They cleaned out stuff from the second floor. The students filled one full container with garbage and the other with metal.
“They did a good job,” Knoell said.
The VFW hall will get a new, large bathroom that will be handicapped accessible and installed by local contractors. The facility also will receive a new back door. Upstairs windows will be closed in and a new stove will be delivered soon.
Brad Wiese, Rebuilding Together, PVE, executive director, applied for the Sears grant for the repairs.
Wiese talked about the group’s importance and the privilege of being able to help veterans.
“It’s an honor to be able to give back to those who’ve given to us,” Wiese said.
Knoell had just turned 20 years old when he entered the military in 1968. He had basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and stayed for job training.
He went to Whiteman Air Force Base in central Missouri, where he served as a security policeman.
Knoell then went to what was then called the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base (now the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base) in Thailand.
He served as a security policeman there as well for about a year.
“The base missions in Thailand was more or less air operations for Vietnam, and some rescue for downed pilots,” he said.
His job involved helping to secure the base.
From there, Knoell went to Robins Air Force Base, south of Macon, Georgia, where he also worked security.
Knoell was discharged and came home in August 1972. He worked for Valmont Industries, retiring in July 2010.
He and his wife, Joyce, have two daughters, Malisa and Molly, and a grandson, Garrett.
Knoell is glad he served in the military.
“I think we’d have less crime if every boy served in the military,” he said. “You learn discipline and you learn how to get along with people.”
And you learn how to follow orders, which can be important when your friend wants you to join the local VFW group.