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Norwalk Hall of Fame inductee honors brothers in arms

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Jan 22, 2018 at 4:29 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in a seven-part series featuring this year’s Norwalk Hall of Fame inductees.

 

Whenever David Ballard drives by the Huron County Veterans Memorial on Shady Lane Drive — many thoughts come to mind.

“That is a good 10 or 13 years of my life — and all of the years afterward taking care of the memorial,” said Ballard, a 1968 Norwalk graduate.

A Vietnam veteran, Ballard spearheaded the drive to get a war veterans memorial in the Norwalk community — which finally happened in 2004.

Because of his efforts, Ballard is one of seven members in the 10th Norwalk High School Hall of Fame class this weekend.

A dinner and banquet to honor this year’s class will be held at the Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at 5 p.m. Saturday prior to the boys basketball home game vs. Huron. Tickets will cost $15 for the dinner and banquet, and can be purchased from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the NHS athletic office.

This year’s other inductees are Dr. Virginia Showers Ingram (academic), Bill Albright (athletic), Chris Bleile (athletic), Carrie Monnes Sheehan (athletic), Jess Gerken Miron (athletic) and Tim Sommers (athletic).

Ballard served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. With the draft looming in 1969, he enlisted in the U.S. Army with a guarantee of aircraft maintenance school. He completed his basic training at Fort Gordon, Ga. and was assigned to Fort Eustis, Va., where he was trained to perform maintenance duties on CH47 helicopters.

In June 1970, Ballard arrived in South Vietnam and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Eagle, and later at Phu Bai, near Hue.

After six months as a line mechanic, Ballard transferred to the flight platoon and served as a crew chief and door gunner on the CH47s.

He returned to the U.S. in May 1971 and was honorably discharged in April 1972. Ballard also served four years in the Air National Guard in Mansfield.

Following his discharge, Ballard eventually joined a local Desert Shield Support group in conjunction with the Vietnam Veterans of America. During that time, talk began about the possibility of a veterans memorial in Huron County.

When the VVA dissolved, Ballard never quite gave up on the idea.

“I guess it all started with the Vietnam wall in Washington D.C.,” Ballard said. “I also noticed a lot of other communities around the area were building their own memorials, and I just figured we ought to have one here.

“When I was with the VVA, we had talks, but that chapter folded and I just never gave up on the idea,” he added. “My wife (Bonny) and I talked it over and decided we’d form our own committee and get things going.”

Along with Bonny and a strong contingent of committee members, the group began the long process to create a memorial in Norwalk to respect and honor all veterans.

In 1992, the first fundraiser was held at the Strawberry Festival. A committee was later formed consisting of both veterans and community members to raise money through grants, fundraisers and private donations.

In September 2004, after years of fundraising and work, the committee raised $100,000 and the Huron County Veterans Memorial on Shady Lane Drive was dedicated.

“It took an awful long time,” Ballard said. “There were times I thought it would never get built, but I had a lot of great people helping me. It was a total team effort, and it was just very gratifying when we got it done.”

Over the years, Ballard and several volunteers continued to be trustees to the memorial by adding the names of the servicemen and women on the walkway — and updating the monuments reflecting the current status of U.S. conflicts.

Dave and Bonny, along with the committee members, continued to be the caretakers of the Memorial until 2016.

“And every time we had a fundraiser, or needed help cleaning the memorial to get it looking nice for the holidays — my three kids were always there,” Ballard said of daughters Randi and Jill, and son, Matt.

In 2017, the Disabled American Veterans agreed to maintain the property — though the dream will always be that of 1968 NHS grads Dave and Bonny Ballard — who married in 1974 — and a committee of dedicated veterans.

“If it hadn’t been for each and every person on that committee — everyone brought their own special skill set,” Ballard said. “I certainly couldn’t have done it without them. This was all because of a total team effort. It was a labor of love.”

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