FAIRHOPE, Ala. — Rudolf “Rudy” Rosenquist, an artist and lover of history, and a longtime friend to many of Fairhope’s best-known personalities, died Monday, March 1, 2010. He was 86.
“He was one of the ‘old guard,’ you might say,” said Gina McMellon, Rosenquist’s stepdaughter. “His life story is just incredible.”
Rosenquist was a highly decorated veteran and “a legend within the Marine Corps,” said Fairhope resident Bill Butterworth, the best-selling military fiction author behind the pen name W.E.B. Griffin.
“He’s the only man I know who got bayoneted twice and lived,” said Butterworth, 80.
Rosenquist is perhaps best known locally for his artistic endeavors. He designed the Baldwin County seal, which has been used by the County Commission for the past 51 years. He also designed Fairhope High School’s pirate mascot, McMellon said.
Among Rosenquist’s friends was iconic Fairhope artist Craig Sheldon, who died in 1997. They both were in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II.
Rosenquist was raised in Baldwin County by his grandparents, Ed and Clara Miller, on the same land where he died Monday, family members said.
In 1942, at the age of 16, he joined the Marine Corps. He was transferred to the South Pacific, where he signed up with the U.S. Marine Raiders — the first special operations unit to organize and see action in World War II.
He was with the [2nd] Raider Battalion that went behind enemy lines during the 1942 campaign on Guadalcanal Island. Rosenquist told a Press-Register reporter during a 1999 interview. They killed more than 500 Japanese soldiers while losing just 16 men.
While fighting on the Mariana Islands, Rosenquist was wounded in the chest and abdomen and carried shrapnel in his legs his entire life.
“A Japanese soldier bayoneted him in the back,” said Dean Mosher, Sheldon’s son-in-law, who knew Rosenquist for decades. “He said that while the soldier was twisting the bayonet around in his insides, he pulled his .45 out of his belt, aimed behind him and shot the guy.”
Due to his combat injuries, Rosenquist received an honorable discharge in November 1945. He was awarded two Purple Heart Medals.
After returning home, Rosenquist enjoyed a successful career with the state of Alabama as a revenue officer until he retired in 1974.
“He was well known throughout the state for his ability to sneak up and destroy whiskey stills,” said Dick Lacey, 82, a Fairhope lawyer. He said he met Rosenquist shortly after he moved from Birmingham in 1957.
“He had a thing against moonshiners because he felt they poisoned people. Moonshine contains lead, among other things,” Butterworth said. “He didn’t have anything against alcohol. But boy those ‘shiners hated Rosenquist.”
In 1986, Rosenquist founded the U.S. Marine Raider Museum in Richmond, Va. He and other veterans felt that the Marine Raiders, a unit that existed from 1942 to 1944 during World War II, was a page of history that was fading except in the memories of the 3,600 men who served in its four battalions.
Rosenquist had suffered from heart problems and back pain for many years, McMellon said. He fell down a few weeks ago and his health quickly declined after that, she said. He was taken home from the hospital last week.
“The last time I saw him, he was in deep pain, I know, and trying not to show it,” Butterworth said. “He was cheerful to the end. He was always joking.”
Rosenquist co-authored “Our Kind of War,” a book telling the story of the Marine Raiders during World War II.
In addition to his stepdaughter, Rosenquist is survived by his wife of 24 years, Marian Boone Rosenquist, and two granddaughters, all of Fairhope.
A “farewell celebration” for Rudy Rosenquist will be held from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Fairhope Yacht Club.
The family suggests that contributions be made to the U.S. Marine Raider Foundation, in care of Robert A. Buerlein, U.S. Marine Foundation, 4430 Menokin Road, Richmond, VA 23225.