(EDITOR’S NOTE: To mark the 160th anniversary of Missouri-founded Stars and Stripes, our nation’s military newspaper, this is one of a series of articles on the importance of commitment and service to our democracy. Some information in the article was provided by Wikipedia.)
By JIM MARTIN, Former President
National Stars and Stripes Museum and Library
Medal of Honor Recipient Donald Everett (Doc) Ballard was born December 5, 1945, in Kansas City, Missouri. He was married and was doing dead-end work as a 20-year-old at a dental lab in 1965 when he saw the opportunity to enlist in the Navy and get a job that might prepare him to become a dentist.
By the time he completed his required Hospital Corps training, however, he decided that he wanted to serve as a hospital corpsman with the Marine Corps instead. So, halfway through his four-year hitch, he found himself on his way to Vietnam in 1967 during the heart of a ramp-up to almost 500,000 troops. Ballard found himself assigned as a Navy corpsman with M Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Quang Tri province, where his comrades quickly anointed him with the nickname “Doc.”
On May 16, 1968, Ballard was doing his job, treating two Marines suffering from heat exhaustion and moving them for transport by helicopter when he and his company came under fire from a unit of North Vietnamese. Bullets seemed to be coming from everywhere, and several of his comrades were felled. Amidst the frenzy, Ballard found himself attending to a wounded Marine.
After he’d prepped the Marine for transport, Doc tasked four of his comrades to carry him to a chopper for evacuation. Suddenly, an enemy grenade came bouncing into their midst. Without thinking, Doc flung himself on it. When seconds went by and it hadn’t exploded, he reached under himself, grabbed it, and hurled it as far as he could before it could explode. As the firefight continued, Doc simply returned to treating the wounded Marine as his company secured its position.
Ballard proceeded to serve out his Vietnam tour and the remainder of his Marine enlistment and returned home to find that he’d been selected to receive America’s highest military decoration for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Excerpts from his Medal of Honor Citation:
“Ballard’s heroic actions and selfless concern for the welfare of his companions served to inspire all who observed him and prevented possible injury or death to his fellow Marines. His courage, daring initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
Ballard subsequently decided to reenlist in the Army and was admitted to Officer Candidate School. This came to commanding Gen. William Westmoreland’s attention, and Doc was offered a direct commission as an active-duty Army officer. However, having tasted life “back in the world,” Doc declined and instead chose to join the Kansas National Guard in 1970. He subsequently served as an ambulance platoon leader, company commander, and the first commander of Kansas Guard Medical Detachment 5, a unit that performs medical examinations on guard members to save the cost of contracting outside medical help.
In 1998, Doc was promoted to colonel by Major General James F. Reuger and served as special assistant to the adjutant general of the National Guard until his retirement in 2000 after 30 years of service. Doc was inducted into the National Guard Hall of Fame in November 2001 and is still the only living Kansas guardsman to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
If you travel to his hometown of Kansas City and stop by the National Medical War Memorial, you’ll see a life-sized statue of Doc as a 23-year-old bent over his wounded comrade. He was a young, committed Marine just doing his job—serving his friends, his family, his comrades, and his country in the heat, misery, and death arena that was Vietnam.
Doc, still active at 76, lives in North Kansas City, Missouri, where, in addition to his Guard duties, he has served as captain of the fire department’s emergency medical technician division. He also has owned and operated two funeral homes. He currently does everything he can to encourage commitment and service through speaking at numerous veterans’-related events in Missouri and nationwide.
On Nov. 6 at the Osage Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the Second Annual Spirit of Democracy Celebration and Dinner will feature current Stars and Stripes Editor Terry Leonard, Publisher Max Lederer, Medal of Honor Recipient James McCloughan, Major General Cassie Strom, and others. Call the Stars and Stripes Museum and Library at (573) 568-2055 for more information.