Served in the Army from the Korean War to the Cold War

Photo by Robert Williams
Ray Stoll is a jovial storyteller about his amazing career in the Army that took him around the world and back after growing up in Frazee. He and his daughter Daneele Shipman will be making the next Honor Flight to Washington D.C. May 19-21.

By Robert Williams


Ray Stoll, 83, a Frazee native and current Perham resident, will be embarking with his fellow servicemen on the upcoming Veterans Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. from May 19-21. He will be accompanied by his daughter, Frazee-Vergas School Board Clerk Daneele Shipman.

Stoll was born in 1940 and raised in Height of Land Township and graduated from Frazee-Vergas high school at 17-years-old. He did not stick around town long after that.

“I just went one day; I ran away from home, didn’t like home no more, so I went and found a place that was a better place for me and I stayed there,” Stoll said.

His travels took him to Chicago.

“I was walking the streets of Chicago there, for a day or so, looking at these buildings; I had never seen nothing like this in my entire life and I was on State Street,” Stoll said. “Never seen so many big buildings, so many cars, so many people and then I got scared and I seen this big old guy hanging from the top of this building.

“He had a hat on and a cane in his hand, pointing right at me, and the sign below said, ‘Uncle Sam needs you.’ I said, ‘You dumbass, you might be right for the first time!’”

Stoll visited an Army recruiter and signed up.

“He put me down at the induction center; three nights later, I was on a train heading to Fort Knox, Kentucky, never to look back,” said Stoll.

Basic Training was tough and Stoll and his fellow soldiers completed their training at the site of a former Airborne Training Unit.

“We had all these three hills to climb everyday,” he said. 

Those hills were memorable for more than just Stoll as he found out on a visit to Wolf Lake later in life.

“I was at the Co-op in Wolf Lake one day and these two old guys were there,” Stoll said. “They were talking Army Basic in Fort Knox and they said they were talking about taking that Airborne Training. I said well, you know about the three hills then. What did they call them? Misery, Agony and Heartbreak.”

After Basic, Stoll was transferred to Germany, the first of many international missions and trips to come.

“I was glad to get away from home and I was glad to be in some place that needed me and wanted me,” he said.

His next stop was Czechoslovakia.

“That was where we were holding the Russians back,” said Stoll. 

He was facing off with Russians back across the Atlantic next when he returned to United States in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“We were sitting in Florida staring across the ocean waiting for the Russians to land on Cuba,” he said. “They didn’t do it and we were shipped back to Germany.”

Immediately, the Army asked for volunteers to take on some extra training and go on a special mission.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into; we got on a plane and where are we going this time? Oh, we’re going to a little place down south here. They call that Vietnam, so that’s where I stayed for quite a while,” said Stoll.

Stoll’s military career was in between wars. He was in Korea at the end of that war and in Vietnam at the beginning of the conflict.

“It was kind of a cold war; same with Germany, I was in a cold war there,” he said.

Throughout the remainder of his military career, there was not much of the globe that Stoll had not visited or seen.

After three full tours in Vietnam, which Stoll described as “technically four,” he earned a pair of Purple Hearts for wounds received in battle.

Stoll’s decorations and medals are numerous, including the two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Expert Qualification Badge (M-16), Professional Development Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Oversea Service Bars, Combat Infantryman Badge, Good Conduct Medal, and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

His service was not finished and he next found himself hauling weapons and training locals in the Middle East around the time of the Beirut Marine Corps barracks bombing.

“That was not a fun mission there,” he said. “I came back from the Middle East and told them, ‘put me down as gone; this is it. That’s when General Trefry got a hold of me and told them to not let that guy go. I want that guy.”

Stoll had made six or seven visits to Alaska and the outdoor life there suited him, however, prior to shipping out for Alaska, Stoll attended a Sergeant Major’s Academy in El Paso, Texas.

Stoll describes his retirement post as being a “legman” across Alaska working in the office of Inspector General of the Army Richard Greenleaf Trefry. 

Daneele stayed in Anchorage with him at the age of 12.

“We gold mined together a few times,” said Stoll.

“We had quite a few adventures over the years,” said Shipman.

Stoll’s military career brought him to 37 different countries where he was stationed and he was on active duty the entire time.

“Australia I think was the best place I’ve ever been to,” he said.

After a quarter century of service, Stoll decided to retire from the Army as a Master Sergeant.

“I just said one day that I was tired and I’m going home,” he laughed. “I farmed and I drove truck and did all sorts of work.”

That decision did come with some regret.

“I wished many, many times that I would have stayed in the Army,” he said. “I would have taken that promotion and I would have stayed there 30 years. It was me then. That was my home. That was my family and after 25-26 years, it grew on ya.”

A couple years ago, Ray had a health scare and was admitted to St. Catherine nursing facility where a nurse mentioned the Honor Flight and the application process.

Daneele applied for him.

“Of course, I’d heard of the Honor Flight because we do fundraisers here in town; I help in the kitchen and United Community Bank is very instrumental in donating funds, just volunteering for the fundraisers here in town, I’m super aware of all of that,” said Shipman.

Ray’s application was accepted a few months ago.

“It was a little surprising because typically the acceptance process takes quite a bit longer,” she said. “It was very surprising that it happened that quickly.”

Of all the places Ray has been on the planet, one place he has yet to visit is Washington D.C. He is looking forward to visiting the capitol and has taken plenty of time to think about the meaning of the visit. One place that has lingered in his mind is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He has passed on opportunities when the wall was traveling through the area to visit it and this trip is helping to change that process.

“I had this feeling in me of not going anywhere near the wall; I wouldn’t go anywhere near the wall because of what happened over there and a lot of my troops are on that wall,” he said. “They had it in Detroit Lakes and around here one year and I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. I just stayed away. Now, I’ve been wanting to see it lately. I want to see the cemetery and I want to walk up to the wall and I want to see the names of some of my troops. I want to actually see the names.”

Stoll only shared one story of combat from his decades of service that helped explain his hesitancy to want to see the wall until he was ready to do so.

“In 1967, my entire command got wiped out one morning,” said Stoll. “I wasn’t in it because they had shipped me out into the jungle the night before, otherwise, I would have been there, no doubt.”

To donate or locate more information on the Veterans Honor Flight of North Dakota and Minnesota visit