Raymond Eric 'Ray' Gunderson was born in Des Moines, IA and was in effect 'Born at Reveille' because his Dad, Clarence Gunderson, was a 1930 graduate of USMA. His mother, Belmar, was an accomplished athlete, especially in swimming. As a result, Ray and his younger sister Belmar grew up involved and proficient in sports, which helped Ray succeed as a cadet in later years. Ray lived in a number of places as is typical with Army brats, perhaps most notably for two years from mid-1946 to mid-1948 in Heidelberg, Germany. The Gundersons were among the first American families to live in Germany after World War II. Ray's closest friends from there all later graduated from USMA.
From Germany, Ray and family deployed to the Washington DC area. Ray attended Falls Church High School before attending Sullivan's Prep to prepare for the West Point entrance exam (in those days, the only criterion for academic qualification). He did this during his senior year at Falls Church, so Ray entered West Point in 1952 without a high school diploma. Perhaps, more importantly, he met the love of his life, Ann Rutherford, while at Sully's. Typical of Ray, he remained committed to Ann during the 4 years as a cadet and for the 57 years following his graduation in June 1955.
As a cadet, Ray succeeded with his unusual ability to take what he was doing seriously without taking himself seriously. He was a popular member of Company F-1, where he used his athletic ability in intramural boxing (regimental champion his cow year), soccer, cross country, and as a member of the Goat football team (recall that Ray was competing academically with high school graduates). Company F-1, Class of 1955, was an especially cohesive company and would have periodic reunions for years following graduation. Ray was a faithful attendee.
On June 3, 1955, Ray was commissioned into Infantry branch. Following the basic course and Airborne and Ranger qualifications, Ray followed a typical early career path except for being selected earlier than usual for company command. Ray progressed with distinction in his professional career, being recognized at each level for achievement. Notably, he served his first tour in Vietnam as a battalion commander in the 173 Airborne Brigade.
Perhaps the high point of Ray's military service was his role in the Battle of An Loc as a member of Advisory Team 70 during his second tour of duty in Vietnam in the spring of 1972. This battle, which lasted for 66 days and ended in a decisive victory for South Vietnam, has been described by the late historian Douglas Pike as 'possibly the most significant battle of the entire Vietnam War."
The commander of Team 70 provided a detailed description of the Battle of An Loc and Ray's role in it (in part):
'To describe Ray in combat is not difficult. He was solid, brave and resilient under fire. The sense of humor and warm smile that never left him lightened the load of his compatriots. He one day congratulated in absentia the North Vietnamese soldiers who had earlier dug a deep and reinforced foxhole that Ray jumped into with his boss to avoid incoming rounds. He was considerate of, and respected by, Vietnamese soldiers of all grades."
For his bravery and courage under fire, Ray was awarded the Silver Star and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm. Advisory Team 70 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its support of the 5th ARVN Division in the Battle of An Loc.
Ray continued to serve with distinction, retiring after 30 years of service as deputy inspector general of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Superior Service Medal. He also was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with 'V' device, an Army Commendation Medal with 'V' device, three Legion of Merits, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, and numerous lesser awards.
Concurrent to pursuing a distinctive military career, Ray had been fulfilling his role as a family person. He and Ann were married on June 23, 1956. He was one of those persons who found a balance between the demands of family and career roles. He and Ann raised two children, Karen and Eric, who in turn reared five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One of Ray's most noteworthy achievements was caring for Ann for the 10 years during her journey through Alzheimer's dementia. She was in their home when she passed, surrounded by her loving family, because of his care.
Following his retirement, Ray focused on his role as husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, but he remained involved in connecting with his comrades-in-arms. He was a faithful attendee at the monthly NOVA luncheons of 1955 classmates in the DC area, where his smiling face was a fixture in the photos provided to the class website, and at class, Company F-1, and H-2 reunions. He was in effect 'adopted' by H-2 partly because of his joy in life, expressed by his saying, 'Life's too short to drink cheap wine."
Perhaps most meaningful to Ray were his annual reunions with An Loc survivors. On the morning he suffered his fatal stroke, he was at breakfast with Karen, packed and ready to go to the reunion. There he would have been reunited with his Team 70 'boss,' Lieutenant General Francis Ulmer '52 (Retired), who later wrote, 'Ray represented what West Point is all about: courage, commitment, and competence in doing our duty."
- Al Raymond '55, longtime friend and classmate
TAPS Memorial Article