Memories of a Son on Memorial Day - United Hub
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Memories of a son as U.S. observes Memorial Day

By The Hub team, May 26, 2017

San Francisco Sheet Metal Technician Tom Ballard shared this story, "What Memorial Day means to me," about his son, 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004.

My only child, Kenneth Michael Ballard was born at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, on July 21, 1977, in the fourth year of my 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force. His family lineage has been one full of military service to our nation. His great grandfather served in WWI, and both his grandfathers, his grandmother, father, uncles and cousins all served in the military, totaling some 117 years of service.


Lt. Ken Ballard serving in Iraq

Ken joined the U.S. Army after graduating high school in 1995. Pvt. Ken Ballard's first assignment was with the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, (General Patton's WWII unit "Old Ironsides") out of Friedberg, Germany. He was an Abrams tank ammunition loader, soon to be serving with our NATO forces in Bosnia and Macedonia.

His superiors saw he was a true leader. He was placed into a program called "From Green to Gold," a program that moved an individual from the enlisted ranks to become an officer.

In 1998, Ken took leave from active duty in Germany to attend Middle Tennessee State University. In 2002, Ken earned his degree in international relations. At Ken's commissioning ceremony, his mother and I pinned on his 2nd Lt. bars. (Bars I had made of pure gold.)

Returning to active duty, Ken started training to be an Abrams tank commander.

His first assignment was back to Friedberg, Germany, back with the 1st Armored. Within the year, their unit was given their orders to deploy. On the May 22, 2003, their unit crossed the border into Iraq – the start of their first-year tour of combat.

Three hundred sixty-five days later, the 1st Armored was ready to head home. They felt very blessed to have served their year in-country without having lost a single soldier. They had packed their personal gear and were ready to go. Time to pass the command over to the new incoming troops. "WE MADE IT. WE ARE GOING HOME!!!!!" All this was about to change.

Orders had been cut – the 1st Armored was placed on an involuntary extension. Insurgents were launching large-scale attacks into the twin cities of Al-Kufa and Al-Najaf, an area considered to be very sacred, holy land to the people of Iraq. Headquarters felt it would be wiser to send seasoned rather than inexperienced troops into an extremely hot combat zone.

On Memorial Day, May 30, 2004, eight days into their extension, the 1st Armored lost their first soldier. Pfc. Nicholas E. Zimmer, age 20, of Columbus, Ohio. His vehicle came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades. Eight hours later, while I was attending a gathering with friends at home, we raised our glasses in a toast, thanking those that have given their lives protecting freedom around the world. At precisely that time, halfway around the world, my son was lost.

Ken Ballard's gravestone surronded by flowers and American flags

Twelve hours later, I was back at work in central control at SFO Air Train. My brother in Denver called me. He asked where I was. I told him and asked why? He told me that two old military buddies were passing through the airport and knew that I worked there. They wanted to stop by and say hello. I told him where I was and hung up.

A few hours had passed. I forgot about my brother's call. I noticed our safety officer on the first floor CCTV monitor. He was holding the door open looking left and right as if he was looking for someone. I got distracted, and when I looked back he was gone.

A short while later, the safety officer entered central control and asked me to accompany him to his office.

As I opened his office door, I saw two sharply dressed men in their formal military uniforms. Nothing needed to be said. My life as I knew it had been changed. No more birthdays. No grandchildren.

The Ballards' unscathed military history of 117 years of service had changed overnight.

Ken's unit returned to the U.S. on the Fourth of July 2004.

Two months after my son died, a much respected friend who we all work with at UAL was notified his nephew, Spc. Anthony J. Dixon, was killed in Samarra, Iraq.

Tom Ballard saluting at his son's funeral.

You may be surprised at the number of people you work with on a daily basis. Many have served defending our freedoms. Some silently carry the pain of the loss of a loved one – a loved one that stood in front of you, defending your freedoms.

Memorial Day has always held a very special place in my heart. Now more than ever.

Remember why we commemorate this day. MEMORIAL DAY.

Think about it, when we are all given the day off. Who has made this day possible?

Take the time this weekend to think of those that gave their lives so you can live yours with freedom.

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