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The Congressional Medal of Honor is an award that has only been received by 3,446 people since established by law in 1861, according to the Official Web site of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS). Only 89 recipients are still currently living today, according to CMOHS, due to the fact most recipients receive the honor after death. Recipient Donald (Doc) Ballard, ex- navy hospital corpsman, visited convention during the first general session and enlightened members about the core values of America.
Ballard earned his Medal of Honor on May 16, 1968 while serving as a hospital corpsman in the province of Quang Tri during the Vietnam War. Ballard was giving aid to his fellow soldiers during an ambush from a unit of the North Vietnamese Army when the first grenade came crashing down. Fending for his disabled patients and his own life, Ballard quickly threw the grenade back in the direction of the enemy, leaving no American harmed.
When the second grenade came, Ballard knew he had no time to throw it back. Making the ultimate sacrifice, he took the grenade and smothered it under his chest flat on the ground. After several seconds of shielding his patients from the threat of the grenade, Ballard realized the grenade was miraculously defective. Jumping on this opportunity, he threw the grenade back just before it exploded in the air, saving his patients and himself from any harm.
“My job was to save lives,” Ballard said. “I had the worst job in Vietnam, but it was the most rewarding.”
Hospital corpsmen are a lot like paramedics on the street Ballard explained. Their job is to treat injured Marines on the front lines, sacrificing themselves in the process.
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“That day is no different from any other,” Ballard said. “The only thing that was different was that I came into contact with three grenades.”
When asked, Ballard admitted having support and role models are very important.
“I’ve had a lot of role models and supporters, mostly family and other influential people,” Ballard said.
These role models and supporters are a great factor in creating the amazing pride Ballard carries with his Medal of Honor.
“I’m proud to be a recipient because it represents American Military,” Ballard said. “I wear the medal for a lot of the guys who didn’t make it home.”
In an amazing display of humility and respect, Ballard complimented soldiers nationwide and left FFA members with very important advice.
“Life is about choices,” Ballard said. “We make them every day.”
Many well publicized heroes like Ballard attain the spotlight at events like convention, but rarely does the regular soldier get a chance to take the spotlight. Emmit Heffron, Vietnam War veteran, got that rare opportunity and recited his first hand experience during the war.
“It’s a lot different now, a lot of veterans have support,” Heffron said. “Back in 1968, when I got out of Vietnam, it was so traumatic.”
Heffron spoke about the horrors of war and the affects it can have on a person, but said the answer to his troubles came through his belief in prayer. During the course of the Vietnam war, many Americans had furious sentiments against the war, and responded in an outrageous manner. Heffron spoke about experiencing this sentiment when he arrived home in Houston.
“The ‘hippies’ saw my uniform, and then they were beating on our windshield.” Heffron said. “It was pretty rough.”
Hearing first accounts from both Ballard and Heffron opens your eyes to both the accolades and horrors of war, both in the war zone and at home. A standing ovation, this is what Texas FFA greeted some of our nation’s greatest heroes with at the first general session, and gave them the honor they deserved. As America continues to fight against the evils across the seas, honorable veterans like Ballard and Heffron will continue to stand as an example for America’s future heroes for years to come.