Retired Navy Reserve Cdr. Herbert L. Gurnee, 53, general counsel for the Defense Nuclear Agency, died Saturday at Fairfax Hospital after apparently suffering a heart attack.

After retiring from the Navy in 1965, he was senior project director of the Logistics Management Institute until 1975 when he joined the Defense Nuclear Agency as a civilian employee of the Defense Department.

Born in Duluth, Minn., Cdr. Gurnee earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from Harvard University.

He was commissioned in the Supply Corps of the Naval Reserve in January, 1944, and served on active duty in the Pacific until 1946.

Cdr. Gurnee, who remained in the Minneapolis until he was recalled to active duty in March, 1951. He served in Iran and Hawaii before the coming to Washington in the early 1960s for duty at Navy Matcriel Command Headquarters.

From 1965 until his retirement from the Navy, he was responsible for the cost reduction program for the Defense Department, working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

He is survived by his wife, Jo Gurnce, and a son, William, of the home in McLean; another son, Dana, and two brothers, Brace and William, all of Los Angeles.