Raymond Victor Drake of the “Greatest Generation” passed away on November 15, 2017 just shy of his 97th birthday. Ray had a full and accomplished life. He was a carpenter, surveyor, rancher, farmer, businessman, appraiser, pilot, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and a great harmonica player.
Ray was born in Billings, December 4, 1920, the second of five sons of Verna and George W. Drake. He was raised a country boy in the South Hills near Laurel with his brothers Norman (Gladys), Vernon (Bettie), David (Joyce) and Glen (JoMae). Ray's early life provided healthy doses of hard work and adventure. Family reunions with the five brothers were enjoyed over the years with stories of how they endured the hardships of drought and economic depression through faith, family and toughness.
Ray attended the Pleasant View, Duck Creek and Laurel schools, graduating from Billings High in 1938. He maintained connections to his South Hills roots through the Logan, Keefer and other families. There were many South Hills places that he enjoyed visiting including the "Twin Monuments" which he and two of his brothers helped to restore.
After high school, Ray enrolled at Northwest Nazarene College with brother Vernon, hitchhiking to Nampa Idaho in the back of a fruit truck with $35 in his pocket, to start classes. Of course, war had broken out about that time too, so it wasn't long before school was interrupted and Ray's life changed dramatically.
In the early part of the war, he worked as a carpenter helping to build the Heart Mountain internment camp before being called to active duty. With an aptitude for math and having cleared a variety of tests, Ray was selected for flight school. He earned his wings and an officer's commission in 1944 from the Pampa Texas Army Airfield, class 44-E. After specialty training in the C47 he shipped off to the Pacific Theater to fly his plane which he named "China Doll", across the Hump in the China/Burma/India (CBI) region. Flights were often hazardous, piloting behind enemy lines, dropping para-pacs, towing gliders and navigating extreme weather. A flying accident in India claimed the lives of fellow pilots and was something he recalled frequently both wanting to forget the accident, yet never wanting the sacrifices forgotten. Ray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Chinese Victory Medal, among others. While flying the "HUMP", he made two life-long friends, Bob Bolz of Washington and Bob Andrews of Texas. Ray, the two Bobs and their collective families shared happy times camping at Slough Creek in Yellowstone, visiting each others’ homes, and attending CBI reunions.
In the summer of 1949, Ray and his brother Glen were driving in Billings when they spotted a beautiful blonde, just off shift as a telephone operator, crossing a downtown street. With the confidence that flying airplanes had instilled, the once shy farm boy decided this was to be his girl. He had Glen park in front of her, blocking the path so he could meet her. The scheme worked. That girl, Harriett Anderson, became his wife in early 1950. This union resulted in three children, Joan (Bill) Macleod of Beaverton Oregon, Arlene (Richard) Hegel of Billings and Paul (Teri) Drake of Clancy.
After the war, Ray and brother Dave began a business partnership that lasted most of their lifetime by purchasing a ranch in the Big Coulee south of Ryegate. That was followed with a place near Custer and then the challenge of a start-up business, Rol-Away Equipment Co. in Billings. It was the region’s first equipment rental business. After selling it, the brothers returned to farming and ranching South of Barber. In the mid-1970s, they sold their last working ranch and Ray took a job as an appraiser in Roundup until his 1984 retirement.
The years following retirement were spent RVing in the winters and summering in Roundup and then Billings. Golf was taken up during this time and Ray scored a couple of holes-in-one. He played until he was 90, especially enjoying matches with grandson Jamie. Between golf and travel, time was spent at the family get-away, the Tepee Ring Ranch in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. Building country themed birdhouses was something he excelled at, giving his well crafted works to family and friends.
Ray was a selfless, accomplished man of quiet faith. He seldom had cross words and went out of his way to "do the right thing". He was smart with a quick mind and didn't miss much. He, however, will be missed a great deal by his family. Besides his wife and children, Ray also left a legacy through his grandchildren David (Heather) Macleod (children Brenna, Josh and Rosie) , Eric (Samantha) Macleod and Katie (Scott) Rode; Jamie (Poy) Movius and Rachel Jacobson (children Alise and Evan); and Lisa Drake and Steven Drake. He is also survived by many loved nieces, nephews and cousins.
Ray was a Christian and active church member. He accepted Christ in his teens, and was baptized in the Yellowstone River. Most recently he was a member of the Billings Emmanuel Baptist Church.
A special thanks to the VA and its staff in the Home Based Primary Care Program and RiverStone Hospice. The care he received coupled with live-in support of his grandson Jamie and his wife Poy, and the care of his loving wife Harriett allowed Ray to stay in his home until passing.
A private family service is planned at the Veterans Cemetery. Memorials are suggested for either the International Deaf Education Association Philippines (IDEA, founded by nephew Dennis Drake) or the Montana Rescue Mission (led for many years by nephew Gary Drake). Ray was proud of their roles in these organizations. Addresses are: IDEA P.O. Box 20715 Billings MT 59104; Montana Rescue Mission P.O. Box 3232 Billings, MT 59103.