Try to imagine the pinnacle of wartime bravery… now what comes to mind? Unhesitatingly rushing to the aid of a fallen comrade while under attack? Picking up a live grenade landing near your feet and returning it to sender? Perhaps the ultimate expression of combat courage is fearlessly diving on a grenade to protect the men around you.
Colonel Donald “Doc” Ballard did all those things as a Navy Corpsman in Vietnam one day in May of 1968. Wounded eight times, he was awarded multiple Purple Hearts and in 1970 received from President Nixon this nation's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration, the Medal of Honor. He later left the Navy and joined the Army, then served in the North Kansas City, MO police department, then the fire department after that. And he continues serving his community today.
Ballard is one of only 75 living Medal of Honor recipients, and one of only two living Navy corpsmen sharing that distinction. So it was a very special honor that he accepted the invitation to fly from Missouri to be the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing 2-Fly Tournament. Ballard is more than an inspiring, engaging and witty speaker, he is also a PHW participant and credits the organization for helping him. When the bravest of the brave benefits from the special healing methods of a program like Project Healing Waters, you know that organization is doing something right.
Doc Ballard is here, by the way, because that grenade he jumped on didn’t explode right away. After waiting the typical grenade delay interval with no detonation, he rolled off it, threw it, and immediately resumed treating the Marines he was working on before the attack started. The grenade exploded in the air.
Hearing Ballard speak about his experiences I thought about those Marines whose lives were saved almost exactly fifty years ago to the day. Certainly some went on to have children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. Who knows how many lives were impacted. But there are entire families who walk and work and laugh and pray and live their lives because one humble, kind, funny man was willing to trade his life for the lives of the brothers in his care.
I meet heroes at every single Project Healing Waters event I attend. From the servicemen and women who participate in this event, to the volunteers and supporters who make it all possible, to the man who started it all, founder Ed Nicholson. Ed is a dear friend who has never fished in this great event due to his involvement in running it, but this year as responsibilities have shifted we decided to fish together as a team. It was a great honor to share this tournament with my friend, catching up while catching a few fish. We would also like to thank The Harmon Foundation for sponsoring our team. It’s been a weekend I will never forget.
It was a wonderful time for all. Much needed revenue was raised, many beautiful fish were caught and safely released, and as always old friends embraced and new friends were made, all under clear blue skies at ever beautiful Rose River Farm.
I hope you enjoy the slideshow of some of my favorite photos from this year. And if you’d like more information on how you can help Heal Those Who Serve, please visit projecthealingwaters.org.