When the first grenade landed near them, "Doc" Ballard was able to grab it and throw it away. But when the second came, he knew he didn't have enough time, and he knew his patients would be killed by the blast. So he threw himself on the grenade, and waited for the explosion that would take his life.
On May 16, 1968, Donald E. Ballard was serving as a Navy Hospital Corpsman with a Marine company in Quang Tri, the northernmost province of South Vietnam. It was a sweltering day, and Ballard had just finished treating two Marines for heat exhaustion when his company was ambushed by a unit from the North Vietnamese Army. Ballard rushed into the area with the worst fighting and began giving aid to several wounded Marines, many of whom were hurt too badly to move.
Before serving in the field, a Hospital Corpsman takes a pledge that states he "will not knowingly permit harm to come to any patient." In the moment that grenade landed near his patients, that oath proved to be more than mere words for Donald Ballard - they were his most powerful instinct. But the explosion never came. The grenade had a defective fuse, and after adjusting his physical position to keep the patients shielded, Ballard was able to safely throw it away. Only then, in mid-air, did the grenade explode - harmlessly.
Donald Ballard received the Navy Medal of Honor on May 14, 1970 in Washington, D.C. He left the Navy to enlist in Army officer candidate school, having declined a direct commission from General William Westmoreland. With over three decades of service in the Army National Guard, Ballard rose through the ranks from ambulance platoon leader to colonel, and was inducted into the National Guard Hall of Fame in 2001.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty while serving as a HM2 with Company M in connection with operations against enemy aggressor forces. During the afternoon hours, Company M was moving to join the remainder of the 3rd Battalion in Quang Tri Province. After treating and evacuating 2 heat casualties, HM2 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, HM2 Ballard unhesitatingly moved across the fireswept terrain to the injured man and swiftly rendered medical assistance to his comrade. HM2 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, HM2 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. HM2 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.
DVD 2009-05-21: Medal of Honor: Donald Ballard
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