A life of service
Paul Ray dedicates decades to his country and its people
By Traci Chapman
The military is in Paul Ray’s blood – even now, after his active service time is a memory, Ray works to remember fellow veterans and spread the word about their importance.
“Being in the military teaches you what’s really important – it’s an experience that changes you, no matter what your individual experience might be,” he said.
Ray’s individual experience began in 1967, when he joined the Navy. The promise wasn’t quite the same as the reality, however, he said.
“The recruiter said I might see a sliver that’s part of Vietnam,” Ray said. “By Halloween, I was dodging mortars in Da Nang.”
Ray spent a year in Vietnam as an assault riverboat captain on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
“It was an interesting service, basically you just assault everything, just like it implies,” he said. “Vietnam is a beautiful country, but when you’re in a war it’s hard to appreciate that.”
From there, Ray served for eight months in the Philippines, at the Naval Ammunition Magazine. That would be where he finished his active duty, but it would by no means be the end of his military service.
He first joined the Air Force Reserve, serving for 14 years and then gave another 18 years to the Air National Guard, he said. During that service, he went to Iraq for five months, which was completely different from Vietnam, Ray said. But, he did see one humorous similarity, he said.
“I was standing in line in Baghdad and I was talking to the chaplain in front of me,” Ray said. “It dawned on me that I had two significant birthdays in my life, when I turned 21 and my 55th, and I spent them both in a combat zone.”
During his Ray would make it to chief master sergeant rank, something “only one half percent of the enlisted force achieves and was awarded a Purple Heart during his service, he said.
“For 18 years I was a nuclear, chemical and biological warfare specialists,” Ray said. “We would write the plans, teach the airmen how to survive and work in a contaminated environment.”
All the while, Ray also worked as an industrial engineer and technician at Tinker Air Force Base. Married to Pam for 39 years, he has two children who grew up in Mustang, where the couple has had their home since 1979.
Ray’s service did not end with his last day of active service. Active with Mustang’s American Legion Post 353 for about six years, he became post commander in 2012. It’s been a gratifying experience for a man who believes so deeply in the military’s contribution to America and its people, he said.
“We do so much, when we put out flags for the Avenue of Flags, well it just really gets to me,” Ray said. “It’s a privilege to be able to render military honors at veterans’ funerals, it feels good to be able to hand scholarship recipients checks and listen to the guys who went to Boys State and how it impacted them.”
Ray said what he would like to pass on to the younger generation and anyone who hasn’t served is this – “People that don’t do it don’t know what they’re missing,” he said. “Serving in the military, serving in the American Legion, it means more than most people ever realize.”