Posthumous honor for Lt. BallardOur country has moved on from the days when thousands of U.S. Army troops poured into Iraq to fight a war against terrorism that proved difficult to win. More than 3,000 men and women gave their lives in this faraway place, although most are forgotten by the general population as news coverage has waned or moved on to Afghanistan, where many more U.S. troops have died or suffered debilitating injuries. The only good news about Afghanistan is that troop levels are steadily decreasing and should be down to 20,000 or less in the next year or so.
But one of Mountain View's genuine heroes, Army Lt. Ken Ballard, will not easily be forgotten, now that the main Post Office on Hope Street soon will be designated the Lieutenant Kenneth N. Ballard Memorial Post Office. The idea met with approval by the City Council last year and with the help of Rep. Anna Eshoo, passed unanimously by the House and Senate. It is not clear when the actual name-change will take place.
Largely though the efforts of his mother, Karen Meredith, Lt. Ballard's memory has been kept alive in Mountain View, a process that began when more than 500 people turned out for his 2004 memorial service at the city's Sports Pavilion. Lt. Ballard was almost a larger-than-life character who commanded the respect of his Army buddies and others who knew him as well. It is fitting that Ballard, the only Mountain View soldier to die in combat in Iraq, receives the honor of bestowing his name on a public building in a country that he gave his life to defend.
Ballard died in April 2004 when he was struck by machine gun fire while leading a platoon in Najaf. His original cause of death was listed as "small arms fire" but the Army later confirmed that he was killed by the gun on his own tank which had accidentally discharged.
Meredith says her son was following three generations of his family into military service, enlisting after he graduated from Mountain View High School in 1995. He was scheduled to come home in April, but the day after turning in their weapons, the soldiers in his unit learned they would be among the first to have their tours extended. She had prepared a clay goose outfitted with camouflage at the entrance of her home in anticipation of Ballard's return, a homecoming that never happened.
Later that year, Meredith attended a peace rally in front of City Hall, where for the first time she spoke out about the war, letting the 90 or so people gathered there know the depth of her grief and that the country's debt to the troops means keeping them out of wars they don't need to fight. She later became a member of the Gold Star Families for Peace, a group formed by Cindy Sheehan, another mother who lost a son in Iraq and won fleeting fame when she camped out on the road to then-President George W. Bush's Texas home, ostensibly to ask him what "noble cause" her son died for.
Ballard received a hero's burial at Arlington National Cemetery, where on Memorial Day two years ago Meredith was able to speak to President Obama about her son. And now, with the help of Rep. Eshoo and other supporters, the Mountain View Post Office will bear Ballard's name. It's hardly the same as having him home, but certainly enough to make a mother proud.