The Rev. Delbert Kuehl was a decorated Army chaplain and paratrooper who willingly followed his troops into battle during World War II.
He received a Silver Star for valor and a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds incurred while crossing the Rhine River with his unit in Holland. The episode is part of the Greatest Generation archives of the Minnesota Historical Society and was featured in a book and a movie, "A Bridge Too Far."
The Hopkins High School graduate became a missionary in Japan in the 1950s and then helped lead a mission agency until he retired in 1981. He died Sept. 13 at age 93 from congestive heart failure at a care center in Glen Ellyn, Ill., said his son Nathan.
Kuehl was born on a farm near Alexandria, Minn. During the Depression his family moved to Minnetonka. He became a Christian as a teenager after hearing a Sunday school teacher explain the gospel.
"He was transformed by that relationship with God, and his natural desire was to be able to share that with as many people as he could," said his son Dan, a missionary in France.
After graduating in 1942 from Northwestern Theological Seminary in Minneapolis, Kuehl volunteered to become a chaplain for what became the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division and also qualified as a paratrooper. Kuehl told the Star Tribune in May 2001 that he organized a service for the regiment's 1,800 men at Fort Benning, Ga. "Two men came," he said. "And one of those was drunk."
If the men wouldn't come to him, he said, "I decided I'd go to them. I would go where they went."
That eventually led him to the Rhine River on Sept. 20, 1944.
The paratroopers' goal was to seize the Nijmegen bridge in Holland before it was destroyed by the Germans, who were dug in and waiting.
"Lord, thy will be done!" Kuehl prayed aloud and often as he paddled against the strong current and withering German fire. Less than half the 26 plywood and canvas boats made it across, he told the Star Tribune. "I had a first-aid pack, so I tried to do what I could for the wounded."
His Silver Star citation credits him with helping to save 35 wounded men while seriously wounded himself.
T. Moffatt Burriss, a company commander in Kuehl's regiment, wrote a book, "Strike and Hold," about the 82nd Airborne. He sent Kuehl a copy with this inscription: "No one has ever meant so much to so many troops in any military unit as you did in World War II. Your bravery and your faith in God [were] inspiration to all of us."
"He has a real persevering personality no matter how difficult the circumstances are," said son Nathan, of Chicago.
"He was a very kind, humble Christian," said Jack MacDonald, a fellow missionary and later an executive with him at the Evangelical Alliance Mission in Wheaton, Ill.
Kuehl also is survived by his wife of 64 years, Delores, children James, of Wheaton, Ill., Tim, of Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nancy Tischler, of Gresham, Ore.; 13 grandchildren; one great-granddaughter, and a sister, Laverne Baldus, of Rogers.