Bern Ballard, a gentle and accomplished man, passed away on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. He was born on July 12, 1920, near Inez, Texas, and was the sixth of eight children born to Edith and Ralph Ballard. His father was an itinerant farmer. By the time Bern was 13, his family had lived in half a dozen small Texas towns. In 1933, they settled in Austin, where Bern lived for the next 80 years.
Bern attended John Allen Jr. High School and Austin High School. In 1940, he and four friends enlisted in the Army National Guard. Shortly thereafter, the 36th Infantry Division was activated. Bern Ballard was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Quartermaster Regiment as a truck driver. "I think I may have been the only man in the Army that never got Basic Training," he said at one time. "They just put me behind the wheel of a truck, and I started driving. "
In April 1943, the 36th Infantry Division was shipped to North Africa. After about four months, they took part in the invasion of Italy. As casualties mounted, Bern was transferred to the Infantry, where he served as a staff sergeant and company leader. His division continued north in the drive for Rome and then was part of the invasion of southern France and Germany. In the battle for Huertgen Forest, he was injured by mortar fire, for which he received the Purple Heart.
It was there that he learned about President Roosevelt's death-one of his most distinct memories from the war. "It must have taken only a short time for word of his death to reach us in Europe," he recalled. "I remember that we were on the way out of Huertgen Forest when that news came down. The company was not halted for the announcement to be made. The news was just sent up from the rear of the column. As we were marching along, each man in turn would call it out to the man in front of him and then shout, 'Pass the word forward.' Each of us would hear, coming up from behind, 'pass the word forward,' 'pass the word forward,' until it reached us. And we in turn repeated that awful message that the President was dead. Those words continued up the line of march in sequence, until the voices gradually faded from hearing. It was one of those moments in life that a man doesn't forget."
In addition to the Purple Heart, Bern received approximately a dozen different medals for his service, including a Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, and European Theatre of Operations Medal.
Bern came home from the war in 1945. He then worked as a bookkeeper for several years; opened a service station on Airport Blvd; and later sold insurance. In 1955, he got a job with the U.S. Post Office, where he worked for almost 20 years. Then, after purchasing some land in Burnet County, Bern began a career in real estate, subdividing and selling that land. He operated an antiques store on South Congress Avenue from 1982 to 1993.
Over the years, Bern became a favorite interviewee for various media outlets when Veterans' Day rolled around each year. He created a small W.W. II "museum" in his house and frequently opened it up to groups of school children. He wrote and published Under the Sea, a book about his World War II experiences. He worked with one of his nephews to create a website that profiled his years in the war.
In 2011, Bern was appointed a "Chevalier" in the French Legion of Honor in gratitude for his role in the liberation of France during the war. Bern received the medal during a private ceremony held at the French Embassy in Houston.
Bern is predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Mary Elizabeth Ballard; and his daughter, Harrilyn Ballard. He is survived by his son, Scott Ballard; his daughter-in-law, Virginia Ballard; and his grandsons, Max and Ryder Ballard, of Houston. He also leaves behind his brother Billy Ballard and his sister-in-law, Jean; his nephews, Stan, Brad, and Mark Ballard; and their families.
The family is extremely grateful to Brad and Charlotte Ballard, as well as their children, whose love and care enabled Bern to live independently up until a few months ago. The family also has tremendous gratitude for Bern's tenant, Justin Cope, and family friend John Bolander, both of whom shuttled Bern wherever he wanted to go. And Bern was never without a list of places he needed to go and things he wanted done!
Grandpappa lived a rich, full life. He was a big, strong, kind man. He loved his little dogs –Rocky and Chocky. We will miss him.