FARGO — The first time I met Chuck Rustvold, he described himself as a “stubborn Norwegian.”
Chuck was one of the first veterans to travel on the WDAY Honor Flight in 2007. He died on Sept. 20, just three days after his 98th birthday.
He was a soft-spoken guy — a longtime barber in Fargo who watched as the city grew up right around his South University barbershop. He often talked about watching the old Dakota Hospital being built right outside his window.
But the man who spent hours chatting over a shave and a haircut had his own story to tell.
To summarize it very briefly, during World War II, Chuck basically sacrificed his own needs to stay with a dying fellow soldier he really didn’t even know. He just knew his name — Gordon F. Brader — a young man from upstate New York who had been hurt very badly.
As their unit marched on during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest in November 1944, Chuck, who had also been injured, stayed in the frigid snow with Brader for days. The Nazis were so close Chuck later told me he had to whisper to Gordon, who was crying out in pain. "Shhhhh, they'll hear you."
Chuck was there as Gordon died after a couple of days. Chuck then trekked to an aid station through icy waters and treacherous terrain to get help for his own wounds. Nurses had to cut off his uniform, which was encrusted in an inch of ice.
Chuck said he chose to stay with Gordon Brader because he was a "stubborn Norwegian" who refused to let anyone die alone, but there was a whole lot more to Chuck than that.
After the war, he was a kind and loving husband and father, and a guy who put up with an annoying reporter who was always eager to find excuses to interview him. For example, I did a follow-up story with him when I found out that he had become a penpal with one of Gordon Brader’s relatives.
Barb Brader didn’t know Gordon, but she felt such gratitude to Chuck for all he had done and she wanted to make sure he knew how special he was.
Chuck was even sweet enough to leave his warm and cozy house one cold winter night to come to Concordia College and let my journalism students interview him. They told me later how much they loved listening to him. The next generation was as impressed as my generation was.
I’m so grateful that the story of Chuck’s life was well-documented in a book written in 2009 by his nephew, Larry Haugen. “Chuck’s Story” is the perfect example of how a family member can make sure the story of their loved one’s life does not die with them.
Larry spent hours getting Chuck to talk about his life, and I’m grateful that he didn’t wait. I’m sad to say Chuck’s son, Jeff, recently told me that Larry passed away just one month after Chuck, in October of this year.
Was Chuck a stubborn Norwegian? I don’t know.
I do know he was a kind Norwegian, a tenderhearted Norwegian, a heroic Norwegian and an unforgettable Norwegian. I’d like to think Gordon F. Brader, that young man who Chuck refused to let die alone, greeted him outside the pearly gates with a, “Hey buddy, what took you so long?”