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Medal of Honor story: Donald "Doc" Ballard



my name is dawn Ballard don Ballard and I started out as a Navy corpsman I went with the Marines and retired out of the army as a Carl like I said I started having them as a Navy corpsman I was a pre-med major in dentistry and when I joined the Navy they didn't need dentists they needed corpsman so they sent me to Corps school I ended up coming an orthopedic surgeon assistant and shortly thereafter the bit more escalated and they needed corpsman with the Marines and I was selected to go join the Marines so I was drafted in the Marine Corps after a served in Vietnam I came home and got out finished my education and went back in the Army is an officer retired as a full colonel most of the time that a corpsman was in combat is usually pretty busy with taking care of the wounded and that was my only job I was in Vietnam was to protect the Marines and get him home to the best of the liability so keeping most of that in mind our day-to-day activities were you know minimal defending this position it moved to this point here and take on another position so but the the ultimate Marine Corps battle cries corpsman up anytime we get into a firefight or get into any kind of injuries then first thing they want to do is call the corpsman up there to take care of them and that's that's what our job is so leading up to the medal was a typical day I mean it was I didn't see much difference you know weather change we had the monsoons we had I was up in northern highlands so it was a mountainous region and we had mostly wet weather up there and most of the situations that that we encountered were the North Vietnamese that were coming out of North Vietnam we were we were in the hill fights right around Khe Sanh so the farther south I I got was about five miles south of the DMZ and we worked a whole dmz from the clear over to the coast from Khe Sanh clearly to the coast and protecting the roads and protecting the villages and sweeping the well the roads as well as the areas that we operated him you know we were on a particular sweep and in that particular morning our objective was to get from point A to point Z and we started out we left Khe Sanh and we were on one Hill moving to another Hill and we had encountered some cement enemy activity so we sat down stayed there for a day one we had gotten some resupply of new Marines that just came into the unit and they hadn't been acclimated to the temperature so we had about four heat casualties and we had to evacuate them out because they they weren't able to stay with us and keep up with us so we treated him and I set up a hot LZ to bring him in and get him evacuated so we set up the LZ evacuated the troops and then as we proceeded on to join up with the rest of our unit the unit moved out and we proceeded to keep up with I had six roads issued give me there and that they were all my protection they were little bears and they were for my use at that particular time you know we had left the hot LZ and was trying to catch up with our unit because they had already moved out and had about halfway up the mountain they were attacked again and when they separated us they looked part of us go by and they attacked in the middle so then what happened was typical because then the Marines would turn around and the firefight would be between 16 M 16 s against m16 you know until we realized there's a distinct sound between their weapons and our weapons so once we realized it was only the m16 that were finally we stopped fired but the damage had already been done you know we were actually shooting ourselves the enemy had set up various strong points along there they had what they had called they called a spider traps and they were little bitty holes in the ground and they could hide in these holes and add fresh cut bamboo across the top so it looked like just a you know normal place they could reach up out of the raise up the lid and shoot from that hidden position and then drop back down and no one ever know where the shot came from so that's what we were encountering that day was we didn't know where the enemy was they had been dug in for several months you know waiting for us and just like anthills you know when we climbed that hill we didn't have any idea they were there but they were already dug in already had spider traps set up waiting for us the we suffered quite a few injuries from my job as a corner most of what could get them and bring them back to area of safety and treat them the best I could and prepare them for evacuation we didn't have any ground ambulances so we had to wait for the helicopters to fly I will say that the helicopter pilots over there whether it was marine or army were excellent for us because if we got on their on their web and their internet and called them if they were monitor we could get on their frequency then we could get him to come in and they would they would no matter what their mission was before we called them they would stop and pick up our patients so we really had good evacuation support there and and that's what we were doing that morning was trying to evacuate the patients out well I had a I had a collection area about six patients and apparently there was a North Vietnamese guy it was pretty close to us because the grenade came in and he was throwing the grenades in on top of us so you know he couldn't have been too awful far away I never did see where it was coming from you know where the grenades was I came in contact with three grenades that day one of the areas that or one of my Jobs was to look physically go out and get somebody and bring him back and it was what I was doing that day and I read that particular firefight I'd go out and get somebody and fireman carrier dragged him have thinking on how big they were get him back to area of safety and as I was coming in we had prepared to evacuate you know what patients we had a grenade came in and it actually hit me in the helmet and fell down to the ground and you know what are you gonna do with it I had had to reach around to figure out what I was gonna do and I my soul-searching said that I just spent all this time trying to save all these Marines and no one else could do anything and you know you can look around for the biggest hole and you're see raishin Kant had already filled it so it wasn't much place to run and in my compassion for the Marines at that time I I actually Dolan the grenade and pulled it up underneath my chest I was wearing protective flak jacket and really didn't think about trying to commit suicide you know I was just trying to protect the Marines I laid there for a little while and realized that the grenade was not going to go off or at least I had time to get rid of it before I could you know before it would would detonate so I grabbed a hold of it rolled over and I threw the grenade away and as I threw it away it went out of low area there that we were Allstate and and it it went off but it went off harmless didn't hurt any of the Americans it's a great feeling actually as a corpsman my only job was to save lives and for me to want to do that it takes a special breed of people that they would run into combat without any weapon and if the truth was known if I was doing my job I couldn't protect myself I depended on the Marines to take care of me so it was a good relationship and we had been doing it for you know several months and you'd fall in love with these guys you know and they were just like kids to me they were they were younger than me but that we were brothers and there's there's no closer closer love and combat buddies so for one of them to get hurt you know I felt I felt depressed I felt like you know that I'd lost one of my patients or had lost one of my friends so of his extra involvement for me to want to try to do the best I could all the time and if that meant risking my life then that meant I was the only one capable of doing whatever had to be done so this one particular guy that that I had treated we had pretty severe firefight he had gotten a chest wound and it was a sucking chest wound he'd lost his long I treated him and one of the things that they didn't understand was that a part of the treatment was I had turned him off on his injured side to one controlling and to take all the weight of the bad lung and all the flood and all the hemorrhage all the blood off of the good lung so it is good lung can function and he fought me you know he didn't want for me to turn him up on his pain painful side so I I do remember him from that incident at all because he yeah I finally had to tell him that if he didn't do what I told he was gonna do he was gonna die and for not to let anybody turn him over on these other side so I I should have prefaced the whole story by saying that you know like I've told you the other night was the fact that he came up to me and of one of our reunions and asked me if I was dr. Ballard and if I had served in 3rd battalion 4th Marines Mike cut me and I said yes I had and as I told you there tonight I didn't really recognize the guy because it's been many years and I hadn't really seen him all that often before you know the firefight so he was kind of a newbie but he reminded me because of you know the fact that because he all the trouble was not wanting to listen to my advice for treatment but as we said visited I started to remember in the incident and it was pretty involved with intense because he was suffering and we had a big made a pretty good firefight going on so here a few years it took us you know 15 years later and that he comes up to me and says you know you saved my life and I appreciate that well of course that really means more to me than the medal of honor itself because you know keeping in touch with these guys and then showing their appreciation you know it's a difficult task because I was just doing my job but the job was an important job and they were grateful that I did the best I could and the fact that I did save their life was meeting full of course both dead men to myself so we became very good friends again and he invited me up to his hometown I took the Amtrak and went up to just south of Chicago and the whole town turned out for me all this all of his family his mom and brothers and sisters and his children and of course there was a sorrowful deal because I was very very emotional especially when the mother comes up and thanks you for saving her son and then the sons and daughters coming up and telling you that if he had not saved their father they wouldn't even been born let's say it was more powerful than actually receiving the medal it's certainly more rewarding you know it's it's what all corpsman and medics you know strive for is to to be recognized as a as a good health care provider it was a reunion of marine marine corps reunion and our guest speaker was a young major marine who just got back from Fallujah and he was explaining what the war was all about over there and at the end of his speech he speaks acknowledged he said that he wanted to thank two people in the room for his invitation that night one was his father and that was demanded I'd saved and he said up here on the diocese the other guy want to thank his dock valid because he saved my father's life and if he had done that I wouldn't have been born now this was a marine major so the kid obviously had and fighting in combat himself he had a great appreciation for the corpsman so we you know so it was another lineage there another another friendship that was developed well I was raised with the family of veterans of Second World War guys and I was taught from the very beginning that you had to pay a price to live in this country wasn't free so with that attitude I joined the service but also with the understanding that I believe it's it's still a powerful message that we ought to be spreading to her kids today we've kind of we kind of dropped the ball you know the anti-vietnam time frame of our country kind of disrupted that thinking because when we were everything was so anti military after Vietnam that nobody wanted to serve and I have to thank these kids today for wanting to serve they're very very patriotic you know there's no draft they they join on their own volition they go against peer pressure you know they're true patriots and we're grateful that we have the people that want to serve today so when using the metal I try to reach those kids reach the younger generation reach the new leaders of this great country try to encourage them to believe in Americanism and patriotism and expose them to some other type of heroes besides basketball players so I don't know that I used the metal but if I was to consider that I was using it then it would be to raise awareness to the children that it's important to protect and enjoy the freedoms that we have today you

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