Legendary Navy SEAL and 'Survivor' contestant Rudy Boesch dies

Jack Murphy
November 04, 2019 - 9:35 am
Survivor Reunion

(Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)

Retired Command Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rudy Boesch was a legend on the SEAL teams and was introduced to the American public by being the oldest contestant on the television game show "Survivor." On Friday he died at 91, surrounded by friends and family, according to a statement from the SEAL Veterans Foundation.

Boesch served in a long series of Special Operations assignments in a career that spanned 45 years. Joining the Navy in 1945, he just missed World War II but later volunteered to become a member of the Navy's new Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), and graduated the training course in 1951. Today, Boesch's name pops up time and time again in military memoirs and histories about the Navy SEALs. He was selected to become a part of the newly formed SEAL Team Two in 1962 and saw action in Vietnam as a SEAL platoon chief in 1968. While deployed to Vietnam, Boesch took part in ambushes, raids, recon missions and prisoner snatches. He was awarded the Bronze Star medal for his service on over 45 combat operations and deployed to Vietnam a second time to train South Vietnamese frogmen. 

Known to be a fitness fanatic, Boesch established physical training standards for the SEALs. Living a regimented lifestyle, he woke up at dawn to perform his daily PT sessions and in his fifties he was known to outperform SEALs half his age. When the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 created Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Boesch was chosen to be the senior enlisted advisor to the new command. And why not? Boesch had been with the SEAL teams since the beginning. He was on standby for a suicide mission during the Cuban missile crisis, he had led men in combat, and for so many, he was emblematic of what it meant to be a SEAL.

Rudy and his wife Marge
Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect

Boesch retired in 1990 as the longest-serving Navy SEAL on active duty.

The retired command master chief was introduced to many Americans via the television game show "Survivor" in which Boesch participated as their oldest contestant at 72. On-screen, he came across as a salty frogman, but one that viewers loved. Boesch was a fan favorite on the show and was asked to come back when for the all-star edition. He was again the oldest contestant on the show now at 75. His popularity on the television show led to a bit of a second career with other television appearances, speaking engagements, and even a 12-inch action figure made in his likeness. His uniform is now displayed at the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum.

Boesch passed away at 91 from Alzheimer's disease. 

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.