American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan has fond memories of Past National Commander Keith Kreul, who passed away Dec. 28 at age 89 in Lancaster, Wis.
One of those, in particular, reminds Rohan of how humble and unassuming Kreul was. Right around the same time Rohan was endorsed by The American Legion Department of Wisconsin as a candidate for national commander, the department was honoring Kreul’s 30th anniversary as national commander. A few weeks later Kreul’s post had a similar event for Kreul that Rohan and her husband Mike attended.
“Keith was weaker at the time, and through his wife he made a big deal about me being there and that I would be Wisconsin’s next national commander,” Rohan said. “He was again turning the attention off of himself ... and wanted to make sure that people knew who I was.
“Immediately after my endorsement came up at our department convention, the first letter of congratulations I received was from Keith Kreul. It was a very nice note that congratulated me and said how proud he was of me.”
Kreul, who served as national commander from 1983-1984, was a U.S. Army veteran and member of American Legion Post 184 in Fennimore. Kreul also served as department commander, national vice commander and chairman of the National Legislative Commission.
Rohan first met Kreul approximately three years after Kreul had finished up as national commander. She met him at her first department convention when, at lunch, she was looking for a place to sit and noticed Kreul at a table by himself.
“I’m guessing he was sitting all by himself because everybody thought ‘you can’t sit with the national commander,’” Rohan said. “It was the only place I could sit. I very sheepishly went over and asked if he minded if I sat with him.”
Rohan said Kreul very cordially said yes. “When we sat and talked, he was so friendly and humble,” she said. “There’s part of it that reminded me of my dad. It was like I had to draw information out of him. I really wanted to hear stories about what it was like to be a national commander. He shared with me about going to the White House and meeting the president, testifying, traveling across the United States, the people he met. I’m getting to experience a lot of the same things that he shared with me.
“He was always quiet and seemed to be listening. He never really inserted himself into conversations. I never heard him say things like, ‘I was national commander. We should do it this way.’ He was quiet, listening and let people make decisions, but he would also help mentor.”
Wisconsin Legionnaire David Gough – who has served as department commander, National Executive Committeeman and national vice commander – said his relationship started with Kreul when Gough became active at the district level.
“We became good friends, and he acted as a mentor to me,” Gough said. “As I was running for state offices, Keith always supported me. I saw him just before I was sworn in as national vice (commander), and he was proud as punch."
Gough regularly stayed in touch with Kreul and said the PNC was “very happy about Denise when Wisconsin endorsed her (for national commander).”
During his tenure as national commander – in which the United States dealt with the attack on a Multinational Force barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which resulted in the deaths of 241 U.S. servicemembers, as well as the U.S. invasion of Grenada – Kreul stressed the importance of Legionnaires being active in their communities “to spread the word about The American Legion.” He also urged Legionnaires to get involved in the election process, saying that, “The right to cast a ballot is not to be taken lightly. We who put our lives on the line to defend it also have a commensurate responsibility to exercise that right and educate others – particularly our youth – in the responsibilities that American citizenship confers.”
The 40th anniversary of the signing of the original GI Bill also happened while Kreul was leading the Legion. Kreul said that anniversary “serves as a reminder to every Legionnaire that we are here to serve. The GI Bill provides a standard against which we can measure our efforts.”
And Kreul also made it a point to praise Legionnaires doing the organization’s work at the post level. “It is the Bluecap – with a dedication and zeal unmatched at the grassroots level – who has created and kept alive the dynamic programs for which we are known. It is you, the Bluecap Legionnaire and your families, who are the lifeblood of our great organization."
American Legion Past National Commander Jake Comer, who served in the office four years after Kreul, remembered Kreul as “a good Legionnaire. He ran a good year (as national commander). I respected him for the years that he served.”
Kreul is survived by his wife, Dolores, of Fennimore, four children, nine grandchildren and eight great grandchildren along with several nieces and nephews. Memorial contributions can be made to Fennimore American Legion Post 184, 960 Lincoln Ave., Fennimore, WI 53809; or to the charity of choice.