Letters To Papa Gorilla: A Pathfinder’s Wife On The Homefront During The Vietnam War

Patty Dunn


Patty Dunn was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, when she was five with her two older brothers and a sister. Her mom stayed at home to raise the children, and her dad was a welder. An athlete in school, she played basketball and softball. She met her future husband, Ray, in the spring of 1966 at a church youth group picnic at the beach, and their first date was at a McDonalds. She graduated from high school in 1967 and got a job in administration at the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. Ray delivered paint until he was let go after too many speeding tickets. In the summer of 1969, Ray was drafted, attending basic at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Ft. Polk, Louisiana (“Tigerland”). After AIT, he completed Airborne and Pathfinder schools. On February 13, 1970, they were married and moved into an apartment in Jacksonville. In March 1970, Ray deployed to Vietnam. Patty took a job at the Marine National Bank, and soon learned she was pregnant. In Vietnam, Ray was assigned to a Pathfinder unit, and took the callsign “Gorilla.” When their daughter, Sandy, was born in October 1970, Ray changed his callsign to “Papa Gorilla.” He was able to take R&R (Rest and Relaxation) leave in Hawaii in December 1970. Ray returned from Vietnam in January 1971, and left the military. He took a job working for the railroad. Ray and Patty have remained connected to other Pathfinders through the National Pathfinder Association, attending reunions with other Vietnam Veterans and those who served as Pathfinders in other eras. In this interview, Patty talks about her childhood, meeting Ray, and their relationship through the Vietnam War and beyond. She recalls receiving letters from Ray, and wanting him to be honest about what he was experiencing in Vietnam. She describes the care packages she sent to him, including items he wanted from the States. She discusses Post Traumatic Stress, and indicates that Ray says he does not have it, but she believes he does. She talks about the importance of attending reunions to connect with those he served with and their families, indicating that it helps her understand. Finally, she reflects on what service means to her.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Military Family Life After Military Pathfinder
interviewer David Siry
date 22 July 2019


name Patty Dunn
specialty Army Spouse; Pathfinder