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White and Blue Angels


On this date in 2002, 1,791 people laid themselves down in the snow in Bismarck and made snow angels – a new record that’s now in the Guinness World Records. Since then, the people of Syracuse, NY, have twice challenged the record but failed. In what’s become a good-natured rivalry, they’ve given Bismarck notice they’re already making plans for next winter.

Speaking of angels, one of our own – Navy Captain Gil Rud – commanded the Blue Angels from 1986 to 1988. He says one of his high points during that time was performing in Grand Forks and Fargo, which is going to lead this story to another vehicle – a tractor – in just a minute.

Rud grew up on a farm 10 miles west of Portland, ND, and says his first flight took place during the winter of 1948, when he was just four years old. Bud Hanson, of Mayville, had a plane on skis that he used for transporting young Gil and his mother, Clara, to Fargo when Rud’s Aunt Francis (Lee) graduate from St. Luke’s School of Nursing.

Rud was also fixated by crop dusters when he was a kid. Later, while he was attending NDSU, his dad cut a coupon from the back of a magazine and gave it to him. The coupon, plus five dollars, was good for a free airplane ride, and shortly afterwards, Gil was at Hector Field looking to cash it in. Soon he was airborne in a Cesna 150 thinking, “This is fun!”

Rud joined the navy and, in 1971, was in Vietnam flying missions from the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Oriskany. In 1975, he went back and participated in Operation Frequent Wind, this time attached to the U.S.S. Enterprise. One of his jobs was to fly cover for helicopters during the evacuation from South Vietnam, which he says was “a really bad time.”

Jumping forward to 1986, Rud was captaining Attack Squadron 192 when he was selected as commander – or “boss” – for the Blue Angels. This prestigious position was available only to pilots who had commanded their own fleet squadron, but Rud likes to play this down, saying, “They hadn’t had a Norwegian boss before – they just needed to fill their Norwegian quota.”

During Rud’s command, the Blue Angels performed in Fargo, and one of the show’s sponsors, Jack Dalrymple, later hosted a lively reception at his farm. The pilots were snagged on their way to the farm and taken to a nearby field where a surprise awaited them. A few minutes later, they made their grand entrance to the event – in tight formation – aboard shiny new Steiger tractors.

Unbeknownst to Rud, his former highschool coach, Ron Pederson, was waiting with a 1939 John Deere Model A he brought down from Northwood. The Model A was the first tractor Rud learned to operate, and Pederson wanted to know if Gil could still remember how to start it. Rud is proud to say he met the challenge.

Backing up a bit, we should note Rud gained “centurion” status in 1975 when he made his 100th landing on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Just six years ago, his naval pilot daughter, Valerie (Overstreet), repeated that feat when she became a centurion on the very same carrier. Later, prior to retiring in 1994, Gil Rud was given command of own carrier, the U.S.S. Constellation, for several years.

Rud now keeps a model of a 1939 John Deere Model A on his desk at a branch of Boeing in the city of California, Maryland; he hastens to add his house is located in nearby Hollywood. He says he still enjoys coming back to ND and says his mother Clara still lives in Portland, where she did hospital volunteer work until three years ago when she turned 90.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm