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Virgil B Rockstad
September 23, 1922 ~ July 24, 2023 (age 100) 100 Years Old
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It is difficult to distill the life of a 100 year old man down to a few paragraphs--particularly a man who, born in 1922, participated in historical events that defined our world order for generations. Virgil Byron Rockstad was part of the Greatest Generation of Americans. He lived and survived the Great Depression and World War II, as a participant, and kept many of the things he witnessed to himself for much of his life. He died in the arms of his son and best friend, “Little Byron” Rockstad, on July 24, 2023.
Those that knew Byron well remember him for his strength and vitality. They also knew him to be supremely healthy; one of those prototypical centenarians, hardened by the trials of youth unique to the time in which he lived, and who seemed always to be well, strong, and in good stead with those powers that define human existence. It was his Norse heritage and Viking strength that propelled him perpetually forward, in spite of the difficulties of the times in which he lived.
Byron knew struggle intimately during his youth. Born September 23, 1922, to Severin and Mabel Rockstad in Walcott North Dakota, Byron lost his father in a tragic automobile accident when he was only 9 years old. His mother, brother and two sisters left North Dakota in 1932. Their journey took them west, to the small community of Puyallup, Washington. Byron picked berries and, in 7th grade, chose his paper route over school because the family needed money.
Byron joined the Coast Guard in 1941 and served in the Asia-Pacific theatre in numerous engagements and battles. He was baptized by fire on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He kept this fact to himself for decades until, as a very old man with failing speech, he finally began to speak about what he had seen and done in World War II. At 7:48 AM on this date, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked. Byron was surrounded by what must have been terrible fury and chaos. Later in the war, while serving on the LST 71 in the South Pacific theatre, Byron saw the gunner on his ship’s three -inch gun go down. He climbed into the gunner’s seat and joined the battle. The ship was taking fire and Byron could see Kamikaze pilots dropping out of the sky. Although for us modern-day historians it is difficult to be left with out details about rounds fired and kills during such an epic struggle, Byron left us with one sensational detail: he shot a Kamikaze plane out of the sky and saved his ship.
Back home, after his service in the Coast Guard and Merchant Marines ended, Byron met Arlene. This beloved woman bore him three children and was his partner in life for many years. Byron was Byron, and this did not always translate into a husband who wanted to help much in his home. But that he considered Arlene his beacon of light until the day he died was shown during her times of illness. He stayed faithfully by her side until the day she had to go.
Byron’s successes in business and the outdoors are well-chronicled in oral history that will live on for years. His family had the unique experience in summer 2022, along with friends and distant relatives, to spend time with each other in Libby, Montana for his 100th birthday. All who attended (including some who had never met him before) marveled at what a unique man he was, to have lived so long and done what he did. Byron’s children—Diane, Judy, and Byron, Jr. together with in-laws and grandchildren, all survive him and embrace the many vivid memories of the remarkable man they knew as their father and grandfather. Arrangements were under the care of the Schnackenberg Funeral Home of Libby. Memories and condolences may be shared online by visiting www.schnackenbergfh.com.