Nelson Fred Ritter – Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of the United States Military Academy

Nelson Fred Ritter
NO. 17959
11 Novernber 1926 – 16 December, 1987
Died 16 December, 1987 in Arlington, Virginia, aged 61 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery


As we wound through Arlington National Cemetery following the caisson carrying Nels “Tex” Ritter, we thought, “Wish we could have spent more time with him.” Husband, father, classmate, and friend, he made everyone feel that way.

Nelson Fred Ritter was born 11 Novernber 1926 in Baltimore, Maryland, to Minna and Fred Ritter. As a young child, he was certain that the flags and parades that attended Armistice Day were in his honor. And, when he established a home of his own, the flag flew in front on every national holiday.

Influenced by his father in the Army Reserves, Nels dreamed of serving in the Army as long as he could remember. Until he graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 1944, he was a member of the Victory Corps, becoming Commandant in his senior year. In 1945 he enlisted in the Army, serving a year as an enlisted man at Fort McClelIan, Alabama. Failing in his first bid for an appointment to West Point, he persisted to win a principal appointment from the late Senator Tydings of Maryland. He was assigned to the USMA Preparatory School at Amherst, Massachusetts, where he became “Tex” to many of us (after the cowboy star
of the time – Tex Ritter).

Of Nels, as a cadet, one classmate, said, Tex was always the solid citizen, cool under fire, very practical, and one whom we could always count on both at the Academy and during our military careers.” From that proud day we shared on 6 June 1950, he took with him the first of his life's goals,a commission in the United States Army, and the affection and respect of us who graduated with him.

Shortly, he achieved the second major goal, a beloved partner. He had met Marjorie Jean Corke in 1944. After a six-year courtship, during which Marge completed nurses training, they were married in Baltimore on 10 June 1950.

The newlyweds reported to Fort Knox for their first station, the first of 14 moves, After Iess than a year as a training officer, however, Nels was sent to the Basic Officers Course at Fort Benning en route to Korea.

In Korea, Nels commanded an agent line-crossing unit in the 8240 Army Unit, where he handled Korean scouts and patrols, briefing and debriefing them and coordinating their movements through United Nations units. A classmate describes how he performed his duties: “I went with Tex once as he took a patrol out to the release point  far beyond our forward units. As they disappeared into the gloom, I said, ‘Okay, let's get out of here while we still can. Tex just knelt there waiting for nearly 30 minutes to make sure that the job was done right, then slowly led us back to our lines. That was typical of  him.”  Similarly, Nels extended to support a special operation, during which he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

After 16 months in Korea he reported to Fort Benning with Marge and his two young daughters: Carol Jean, who was born in June 1951,and Elise Dawn, born in August 1952, while Nels was in Korea. At Fort Benning, after attending the Associate Infantry Officer Course , in 1953 he was selected to be aide-de-camp to General Aubrey Newman, commanding general of the Infantry School, and subsequently, to General Ernest A. Barlow, his successor.

ln 1956 Nels reported to Loyola ColIege, Baltimore, Maryland, as assistant professor ­of military science. Also, in 1956, Nels started his long fight as an insulin-dependent diabetic. The Army's immediate reaction was to retire him medically. Nels, however, waged a determined battle of letters, interviews, and medical reviews to convince the medical board that there were many jobs he could fill. He won.

In 1959, he directed his career toward fiscal management, starting with the master of business administration program at the United States Army Comptroller School at Syracuse University. When he graduated in 1960, he and his family moved to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where Nels was named post comptroller.

Here, as in all new homes, Nels nourished his family with excitement, tolerance, curiosity, and devotion. Expeditions to local sights and scenes erased the strangeness and strengthened family bonds. Doting on his daughters, he included all their friends and enjoyed extended discussions with them around the dinner table. Later, be openly basked in the special position as grandparent to Evan Ritter Thorn, Christopher Ritter Gibson, and Julia Marjorie Thorn.

In 1963, Nels was selected for Comand and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. His common sense and practical approach made him a valuable member of study groups, and his warm loyalty cemented strong bonds with his associates.

At the end of the year, the Ritters flew to Europe, where Nels became budget officer, Headquarters Seventh Army, and, after two years as action officer in the comptroller's office, USAREUR. After three years in Germany, he returned to Fort Leavenworth, where he became administrative officer and instructor at the CGSC. In 1969, despite his diabetes, he volunteered for Vietnam and served with distinction as deputy comptroller, USMACV at the height of United States operations.

Returning to CONUS, he spent the year 1974-71 as deputy comptroller, Headquarters Fifth Army at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. Then he and his family returned to the East and Fort Belvoir, Virginia where he became comptroller, then chief of staff of the United States Army Computer Systems Command.

By this time, the diabetes which he had held off by will and courage began to sap Nels' stamina, but not his drive. In 1974 he retired from the Army he loved. The Ritters bought their first home in 1974 in Arlington. For the next 12 years, Nels worked for Northrop, Computer Sciences, and National Systems Management Corporations. In addition to a heavy full-time workload, he served for more than 11 years as a director of the Fort Belvoir Credit Union.

Finally, in 1986 his failing health forced him to retire completely. The Ritters had settled in 1981 into their final home in Arlington, Virginia, where Nels died 16 December 1987, ending his struggle with the many complications of diabetes. Throughout his career and during his struggle with diabetes, Nels drew support, encouragement, and strength from his beloved one and only, Marge.

After a funeral service in Fort Myer Chapel on 22 December 1987, he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery overlooking his beloved Washington and the revolving tower in Crystal City, where Nels and Marge had made their final decision in 1971 to retire nearby.

His West Point ring remained on his finger every day of his life. Classmates knew that they could count on him to stand firm with high standards and strong convictions and lend assistance whenever he saw need. He will always remain in the hearts of his family as a devoted and loving husband and father.

We regret he could not stay a while longer, but we understand and are grateful for the richness he added  to our lives.

-His Family and Classmates

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