BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. – If we are lucky, our path crosses with someone who leaves a lasting positive impression on us, and as a result, our world is better. Hawaii’s own veteran Fred Ballard had that effect on me, and I am sure, it was the same for many others.
In my position at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, I worked with Fred on many occasions. Like me, he was a Vietnam Veteran. I began my work in Veterans Affairs late in life and Fred helped me deal with quite a few speed bumps by helping me traverse the Veterans Affairs system. In the three years I worked with Fred, I never heard him speak an ill word about anyone.
Recently Donna Ching, Vice President of Friends of the Natatorium, told the following story. “In 15 years, the only time I ever saw a visible glimmer of anger from Fred was last year, in a mayor’s Natatorium Task Force meeting, when someone made a dismissive remark about the significance of memorials. Fred’s face tightened, and he tersely and calmly replied, ‘The Natatorium is a solemn commitment to the memory of those who served to protect your freedom and our nation.’”
“He said nothing else,” Ching said. “He didn’t have to.”
Fred was a big man. He stood 6 foot 7 inches and had a heart to match his size. He worked — even during his final illness — as a public affairs officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs where he was responsible for its public affairs work in Hawai’i, American Samoa, Saipan and Guam. Outside the office, he was a longtime activist on veterans’ issues. He was secretary of the Oahu Veterans Council for the last 10 years of his life, instrumental — among many other accomplishments — in the establishment and construction of the Oahu Veterans Center.
Knowing that Fred had declined further treatment for his cancer, Colonel Gene Castagnetti (Ret.), Director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, was instrumental in organizing a luncheon in Fred’s honor. More than 200 friends, admirers and dignitaries — including Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle — joined him there February 13, 2011, for a luncheon in his honor. The Governor declared February 13, 2011, as “Fred Ballard Day”.
Fred was born in California on May 11, 1938. He enlisted in the Navy Reserve in 1955. After graduating from high school in 1956, Fred reported for two years of active duty. As we all know this was to turn into a career of service to his country. This service was to include five deployments to Vietnam, twice on a minesweeper, once on an attack cargo ship and twice on a guided missile destroyer.
While on active duty, Fred served as secretary and treasurer of the Arizona Memorial Museum Foundation, a subcommittee formed by FRA Branch 46. The foundation raised nearly $1 million to help build the first shore-side visitors center for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
Later, as a civilian, he was a board member of the Pacific Historical Parks, involved in fundraising for a new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center dedicated last year.
Fred and his wife had, since 1982, been active volunteers on the mainland and in Hawai’i with Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a movement of the Roman Catholic Church to help couples strengthen their marriage. They served as a prayer vigil “Angel Couple” and edited and published the Aloha Spirit newsletter for years.
When learning of Fred’s death on April 17, 2011, Governor Abercrombie said, “The word selfless is used too often and too loosely, but selfless is the right word to describe Fred Ballard. He selflessly gave of himself in his service to others”. Abercrombie continued, “Fred understood the values of democracy and freedom, so much so that he dedicated his retirement years to the efforts of the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center as well as fighting for veterans’ rights. His contributions will never be forgotten.”
Some final thoughts about Fred: “Fred Ballard, thank you for all you have done for so many. I draw some solace from knowing that as I write these words you will be with the Supreme Commander, advocating for those who served their country.”
Fred is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sandra Jo (Sandy) Ballard; a son, John, and his wife, Debra Cotton, of San Luis Obispo, California.; a daughter, Cindy, who lives in Honolulu; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Frederic W. (Fred) Ballard is interred at C12-S Row 200 Site 283 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.