Midway docent’s memoir takes you on wild ride through naval aviation

Landing a high-performance jet on an aircraft carrier is considered one of the world’s most difficult undertakings. Successfully completing your initial carrier landings as a student naval aviator is understandably seen as a monumental achievement. For those chosen few possessing the right stuff, it is an accomplishment worth celebrating. 

It was August 1968 when Navy flight student Gil Rud successfully “hit the boat” for the first time. Overly excited by this feat, he wasn’t surprised when his celebratory revelry got the best of him. A spirited morning beer fest that got him thrown out of a local Pensacola dive bar led to an impromptu red-clay mudpuddle wrestling match with a buddy, and culminated in a less-than-ceremonial trashing of the base’s swimming pool with his mud-stained clothes.

Gil was the commanding officer of the Blue Angels from 1985 to 1988.

“Making mature decisions was certainly not one of my strengths,” reflected Gil, a USS Midway Museum volunteer docent since 2014. “And it would not be for quite some time.”

This story and many others are wonderfully captured in Gil’s recently published memoir, “From the Prairie to the Pacific, A Blue Angels Journey.” From growing up on a rural North Dakota farm and getting his first kiss at age 12, to becoming a Navy pilot, leading the famed Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, and commanding an aircraft carrier, Gil engagingly recounts his life’s journey, including his evolution of maturity, with humility and self-deprecating humor.

“Gil Rud has lived life to the full, a life of rollicking fun and increased responsibility,” said Kevin Miller, author of the “Raven One” trilogy and a former Navy fighter pilot. “You’ll laugh at his antics in college, flight school and combat squadrons, and ponder lessons in human nature and the treatment of others he offers in each chapter. This fun book is honest, insightful and unforgettable. Strap in!”

The book is written in a manner that easily makes the reader feel as if they are having friendly conversation with Gil over a drink. The story of one remarkable adventure blends perfectly into the next, and leaves the reader always wanting to hear more.

Although it wasn’t his intention, his decision to craft the book came out of  trying to keep busy during the pandemic.

“While I was stuck at home during COVID, I decided to put together some memories for my grandkids as I thought they might be interested in knowing how I grew up, so I started at the beginning,” said Gil, who has more than 1,600 volunteer hours at the museum. “I was having so much fun and the words kept flowing. I particularly enjoyed the research. Digging up and verifying the various vignettes that I share in the memoir.”

After writing the first chapter, Gil sent the draft to his good friend and former naval aviator Dan Beintema, who, at the time, was the president of the USS Midway Foundation. He asked Dan if he thought this might make a book. Dan not only encouraged Gil to author a memoir, but continued to help him with the editing of each section.

“I had a blast working with Gil,” said Dan, who spent eight years as the head of Midway’s foundation and accrued nearly 3,000 flight hours while in the Navy. “He’d shoot me a handful of pages as he wrote them and while trying to stay focused on the editing detail, I could not help but feel in complete awe and in stitches at the same time. I could hear his voice, giggling and laughing as he was telling many of those hilariously wild stories that shaped and defined his amazing career. What a patriot. What a gift.”

It took nearly a year to write the book and a few months more to get it published. Because naval aviation has a language all of its own, ensuring his stories were understandable to the average reader was a bit of a challenge.

“I had to work hard at making it readable for more than just active and retired military folks,” said Gil, who amassed more than 5,600 flight hours and 786 carrier landings during his 28-year naval career. “It was a challenge to limit and explain the acronyms that are so common to those of us with exposure to the military.”

The book is a 50-year romp that takes the reader from the backwoods of North Dakota, to flying combat missions during the Vietnam War, to being the face of the Navy as the commander of the Blue Angels, to ultimately commanding the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64) responsible for the welfare of more than 5,000 sailors.

For Gil, it’s difficult for him to say which of the stories are his favorites, as they were all integral to who he was and who he became. By sharing these stories of his life, however, he hopes to inspire others with his positive energy to stay focused on their dreams.

“The message of the book for young readers is that you really can accomplish anything that you set as a goal, no matter where you came from or what your background might be.”

“The message of the book for young readers is that you really can accomplish anything that you set as a goal, no matter where you came from or what your background might be,” said Gil, who still flies from San Diego to North Dakota, at a sluggish 140 miles per hour, in his own two-seat Aviat Husky A-1C. “For the rest of the readers, don’t take yourself or your accomplishments too seriously. There is a very fine line between incredible success and embarrassing failure. In any case, you really can have a heck of a lot of fun on your life’s journey. I did.”

Gil is greeted by his daughter Val after returning from a Western Pacific deployment in 1975. Val would also go on to be a naval aviator.

The book, which is in hardback and soft copy, as well as in e-book and audible versions, are available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble.

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