The only Medal of Honor winner in the reserve component who is still active in the military, Lt. Col. Donald E. Ballard, was promoted to colonel on April 5, 1998, during a ceremony surrounded by friends and colleagues at the State Defense Building in Topeka, Kan.By Capt. Rick Peat
Maj. Gen. James F. Rueger, the adjutant general, pinned on Ballard’s new rank and remarked, “Donald has had some great experiences in the military including earning the Congressional Medal of Honor and commanding Guard units. He is a true Guardsman, and I’m very proud to be a part of this ceremony today.”
Ballard has been a member of the Kansas Army National Guard since 1970. In his remarks, Ballard reached out to his friends and comrades in arms, “You are my family. I’m proud to be here and to be in the National Guard.” The crowd responded with tremendous applause.
During his 27 years in the Guard, Ballard has been an ambulance platoon leader, company commander and served in several key positions. “What kept me from retiring was the honor of being asked to start a new unit — Medical Detachment 5,” said Ballard. He was the first person in the unit, and the executive officer. “Detachment 5 is the most cost-efficient organization I’ve ever seen in the Army,” said Ballard. “It saves the Guard thousands of dollars by performing physicals for Guard members instead of contracting them out.”
Ballard, who is a Special Assistant to The Adjutant General, has recently been asked to establish a new training program for the certification of all medics in the Kansas Guard. Ballard said he plans on using the same philosophy he learned as a Corpsman, “Preserving the force as far forward as possible” which means taking the training closer to the units rather than having unit personnel come to a central training site.
Ballard lives in North Kansas City, Mo., where he is a captain in the fire department’s emergency medical technician division, and owner of two funeral homes.
Ballard earned the Congressional Medal of Honor while a Navy Corpsman assigned to the Marines in Vietnam. The unit he was with was ambushed. Ballard repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire to pull wounded Marines to a safer location and treat them. Later, this location was engulfed in a crossfire between the Marines and the enemy. An enemy hand grenade landed amongst the wounded. Ballard picked it up and threw it back. After a few minutes under direct fire, another grenade was thrown at his position. This time he didn’t have enough time to pick it up, so Ballard selflessly threw his body onto the grenade in order to protect his patients. After what seemed like an eternity, and no explosion, Ballard reached underneath him to grasp the grenade, rolled over, and in the same motion threw the grenade away. A split second later, witnesses say, the grenade exploded in midair, but out of harms way.
Ballard says he didn’t have time to think about what he did that day in 1968. It was instinct. Ballard said, “It was the right time to be in the wrong place.”
Ballard left the Navy in 1970 and was selected for Army officer candidate school. Ballard was called to the White House to receive the Medal of Honor from President Richard M. Nixon, General Westmoreland, and Admiral Moore. Upon finding out Ballard was switching over to the Army, Westmoreland offered him a direct commission to be an active duty Army officer. However, for family reasons Ballard turned the offer down but was persuaded to join the Kansas Army National Guard.
There are only three Medal of Honor winners still in military service in the U.S. In addition to Ballard, there are two active duty Army officers.
Hospital Corpsman Second Class, USN, Co M, 3d Btln, 4th Marines, 3d Marine Division.
Action: Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam, May 16, 1968.
Inducted: Kansas City, Mo.
Date of birth December 5, 1945, Kansas City, Mo.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HC2c. with Co M, in connection with operations against enemy aggressor forces. During the afternoon hours, Co M was moving to join the remainder of the 3d Btln in Quang Tri Province. After treating and evacuating 2 heat casualties, HC2c. Ballard was returning to his platoon from the evacuation landing zone when the company was ambushed by a North Vietnamese Army unit employing automatic weapons and mortars, and sustained numerous casualties.
Observing a wounded Marine, HC2c. Ballard unhesitatingly moved across the fire swept terrain to the injured man and swiftly rendered medical assistance to his comrade. HC2c. Ballard then directed 4 Marines to carry the casualty to a position of relative safety. As the 4 men prepared to move the wounded Marine, an enemy soldier suddenly left his concealed position and, after hurling a hand grenade which landed near the casualty, commenced firing upon the small group of men. Instantly shouting a warning to the marines, HC2c. Ballard fearlessly threw himself upon the lethal explosive device to protect his comrades from the deadly blast. When the grenade failed to detonate, he calmly arose from his dangerous position and resolutely continued his determined efforts in treating other Marine casualties.
HC2c. 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 US Naval Service.
COL Ballard is the only current Kansas Guardsman to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is currently a member of the Kansas Army National Guard.