When his nephew first asked Chuck Rustvold if he was willing to talk to him about his World War II days, he resisted as usual.
The former Army private hadn't said a word about the war to Marion, his wife of a half century who died in 1995. He hadn't told his son much about it. People at his church had no luck, either. He never even got around to trading stories with a fellow veteran, an old Navy man whose funeral he recently attended.
"We were always going to have coffee and talk about it, but it never got done," said Rustvold, a retired Fargo barber originally from Grygla, Minn.
The reason for his reticence was pretty simple.
"All you do is start to cry," Rustvold said.
Yet he relented and in a series of interviews last winter, reached back more than 60 years to tell his nephew, Larry Haugen, what he could. Not everything, just what he could. His reason was once again simple. Plus, for an 85-year-old, even one as active as Rustvold, it was urgent.
"If I didn't talk about it, they would never know," Rustvold said of his grandchildren and his son, Jeff.
The result is "Chuck's Story," Haugen's 49-page, self-published account of Rustvold's war experience - capped by the days he spent injured behind enemy lines during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany in November 1944.
Rustvold finally talked in detail about being wounded by a mortar, opting to stay with another injured soldier in a dense, occupied forest against orders rather than leave the man to die. Eventually, he was saved by two German soldiers during a cease fire, a lingering reminder that rank-and-file Nazis didn't want to fight any more than Allied infantryman did.
After decades of silence, revisiting those thoughts made them easier to handle, Rustvold said. Haugen, 66, of Moorhead, said he noticed that the interviews were helpful for his uncle. "I can't help but think it was therapeutic," he said.
The book provided other upshots. Haugen at first printed only six copies for relatives. Then interest started picking up via word of mouth, so he ordered 100 more. Sales were brisk enough that second and third orders of 100 were required. All profits are being donated to the disabled wing of the VA Hospital in Fargo - $575 so far.
Rustvold also hopes the story can have less tangible dividends by nudging other vets to tell their stories and by teaching those who have not fought about battle.
"It's good that people get to know what war is like. It's the stupidest thing there ever was," he said.
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