National Guard Museum

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas, we are at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard and I hope you got to join us last week when we visited with John Musgrave, Vietnam veteran, proud Marine. We’ve got some more proud folks for you today. Some incredible soldier stories, you’re not gonna want to miss this episode of Around Kansas. And if you missed the last one, go back to the archives because you’ll want to catch that interview with John Musgrave. We’ll be right back.

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(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. I’m Deb Bisel, your host. We’re here at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard. And we’re here visiting because the American Veteran’s Traveling Tribute Vietnam Wall is here. And what an incredible display this is. It’s just outside the museum here. If you ever get a chance to visit that or the real wall in Washington, D.C., by all means do that. It’s a very moving tribute to the men who lost their lives in Vietnam. Now, a couple of the people that we’re going to be visiting with today and I hope you can stay with us to meet them are on this wall. One of them is Colonel Don Ballard, he’s right behind me here on the wall, Colonel, retired. Another one, Colonel Robert Lynn Smith, he’s on the wall right over there. We’re gonna be talking about William Trembly, a young man from the Spanish American War who earned the Medal of Honor. And his medal of honor is now in the case just behind me here in the National Guard Museum. And Don Ballard made that happen. Now, Don Ballard himself is a Medal of Honor recipient. And when I sat down and interviewed Don he didn’t talk about how he earned that Medal of Honor so I am going to do that for him. And it’s a pretty incredible story. Don was a medic. He was in the Navy and he was a medic in 1968 in Vietnam. He was in Company M of the Third Battalion of the Fourth Marines, the third Marine Division. This was May of 1968. His citation is for Conspicuous Gallantry. Now, this is what he did. They were under fire and observing a wounded Marine, Ballard unhesitatingly moved across the fire swept terrain to the injured man and swiftly rendered medical assistance to his comrade. Ballard then directed four Marines to carry the casualty to a position of relative safety. As the four men prepared to move the wounded Marine an enemy soldier suddenly left his concealed position and after hurling a hand grenade which landed near the casualty, commenced firing upon the small group of men. Instantly shouting a warning to the Marines, Ballard fearlessly threw himself upon the lethal device to protect his comrades from the deadly blast. When the grenade miraculously failed to detonate, he calmly arose from his dangerous position and resolutely continued his determined efforts in treating other Marine casualties. Ballard’s heroic actions and selfless concern for the welfare of his companions served to inspire all who observed him and prevented possible injury or death to his fellow Marines. His courage, daring initiative and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He’s an incredible man. And of course after he was in the Navy he went on to join the Kansas National Guard. And that’s how he wound up here in the Kansas National Guard of Fame. Stay with me as we visit with these incredible folks.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and with me is Colonel Retired Don Ballard. And yes, around his neck, that is a Medal of Honor. And Don was one of the featured speakers here tonight at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard. He actually presented another Medal of Honor to the museum that another solider had earned quite a long time ago. Don, what an honor that was and you were instrumental in making that happen. (Don) Oh yes. It was a very, very auspicious occasion and I certainly enjoyed it myself. (Deb) Well, we got to go, I got to go a few weeks ago to the gravesite of this soldier in Monticello, Kansas, who was in the Spanish American War and earned this Medal of Honor by swimming a river under fire, just an incredible deal. So, you having earned a Medal of Honor in Vietnam when you learned the story of this other soldier, I think that you remarked at his graveside that you actually were familiar with his story. (Don) I was as being another guardsman. And one of the things that we can all associate with is veterans serving together for the same reasons and the same outfits and that kind of thing. Yes, when I first got into the Kansas Guard, I looked at the history of the other Medal of Honor recipients and even did a vignette on him several years ago and we traveled around the state of Kansas doing little vignettes remembering the Medal of Honor recipients. And it was an ad campaign for recruitment for the National Guard. Should be in the archives someplace. (Deb) We’ll look for that. Yeah, thanks. Now, your service when you earned the Medal of Honor, you were a corpsman, a Navy corpsman is that right? (Don) Yes. Navy Corpsman attached to the Marine Corps. (Deb) So, what does that mean for those that are not familiar with the service? (Don) OK. Well the Marine Corps is a Division or a Department of the Navy. And they are the amphibious land force, the infantry if you will. And they serve on ships and then when they need to get off the ships and go attack the land bases, then they take a corpsman with them. And the corpsman has to be trained up before they get to that point, so they can learn to keep up with them and learn to communicate with them, learn the Marine practices. So, they sent us to the Marine Corps Field Medical Service School, which we called our Boot Camp in order to learn to communicate with them.

(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas, we’re still here at the Kansas Museum of the National Guard and with me is Colonel Retired Lyn Smith. And Lyn has been sharing some of his memories of Vietnam and his service there. And Colonel nice to have you with us. (Lyn) Thank you. It’s good to be here. (Deb) You came up to see the traveling wall, so what is it like for you as a Vietnam veteran to see that wall? (Lyn) It’s rewarding to know that the country has finally accepted that what we did was worthwhile and it’s also very humbling because I’ve got a lot of friend’s names who are on that wall. (Deb) Now, when you went in, I was listening to some of your remarks and when you went in, you weren’t planning on going to Vietnam. (Lyn) That’s correct. I enlisted in the Kansas National Guard in fact to stay in school and not go to Vietnam. Right up until President Johnson decided to withdraw student deferments and within three weeks I had a draft notice in my mailbox, so I just left it there and went down to the National Guard Armory on South Seneca in Wichita and took the test and enlisted that afternoon. (Deb) So, I heard you tell and I want you to share this with our viewers, your first impression because leaving Wichita and arriving in Vietnam, boy that was a big culture shock. (Lyn) Well, I left Wichita December the 28th to go to Travis Air Force Base in California to process to go to Vietnam. And when I got on the plane in Wichita we had about 14 inches of snow on the ground and it was about 30 degrees. And when I landed at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam was on January 1st, 1969 and the temperature was about 122 degrees. (Deb) So, you got to Vietnam then, and what was your job? What were you doing? (Lyn) I was an infantry man. I had been in a mortar platoon, so I was very familiar with indirect fire weapons and they assigned me to be forward observer with an infantry company in the field. And that lasted for about four days before the company commander put me in charge of the gun crew. We carried an 81 millimeter mortar with the unit in the field. And so I ran the gun crew, for about four weeks and then I became the mortar platoon leader, because we had a shortage of officers. And I had been promoted in late January to Staff Sergeant. And shortly after that I ended up taking over an infantry rifle platoon as a platoon leader. I spent the rest of my tour as a rifle platoon leader. (Deb) We’re going to take a break, we’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas I am visiting with Colonel Retired Lyn Smith and I have met a few people who’ve done that job, so tell the viewers what it’s like to be a platoon leader because that was pretty scary. (Lyn) Well, yeah it is. The hardest thing for me as an infantry platoon leader was being the guy that had to make sure that people got up to go do what they needed to do while you’re being shot at. And I mean you can’t just stay behind cover, you’ve got to go aggressively seek out the enemy and destroy them. And to be the guy that has to say, “OK, Joe you’ve got to get up and go over there.” And force him to expose himself and to do that with, at the time we had… I’ve had anywhere from 20 to 35 people in a platoon. The number varies based on how much combat you see, how many wounded you have and how many replacements you get. It’s a pretty daunting task. (Deb) Your particular area when you were in Vietnam, what was the countryside like and what were the conditions that you were living with every day?
(Lyn) Well, I was in the First Calvary Division and we had probably more helicopters in the Division than everybody else in Vietnam put together. So, we moved frequently and over great distances most of the time. So I worked in the central highlands for a short period of times, we worked in the rice paddies around Plekiu and the rubber plantations for a couple of weeks. Most of my tour was spent in Tay Ninh province and that is mostly triple canopy jungle, so there’s not a lot that grows there. And because of that we were in what was called a free fire zone. So, anything that moved at night belonged to us. It was, it was good that we didn’t have to seek permission to engage the enemy which we did in the other places that I talked about where we were. But in Tay Ninh if it moved it was ours. But by the same token, that simply meant that we had a lot more contact than we did other places which I guess that’s a good thing because it keeps you on your toes. One of the things that gets guys killed in combat is complacency. And if you don’t have contact a lot then the guys start sending their flak jackets back on the back log helicopter and they start getting more lackadaisical in how they do their patrolling and how they do the job. So, it keeps people on their toes to have more of it, but it’s also a lot more dangerous. (Deb) Colonel when you were in that triple canopy jungle, was your camp was that more or less a permanent camp, or were you moving camp constantly? (Lyn) We had a battalion base camp, in fact it was called LZ Grant, and that’s been featured on a couple of military channel stories. But that was the battalion base camp. All of the companies worked out of that base camp. We rotated companies back to the base camp for base security once every three weeks. The longest mission I was deployed in Tay Ninh was 64 days where we’re in the jungle, we move every day, we sleep in the jungle at night, we set up ambushes, we actively sought out the enemy. So it’s a way of life that you get used to. But it’s not one that you like very much. So, there wasn’t a lot of breaks for us.

Announcer) One last addition to the script here, we’re gonna have a Sergeant Lapore come up and give a quick presentation. (Sergeant) Thank you so much. Major Blumenthal and all the distinguished guests, I’d like to share with you a Letter to all of America, to all Americans. It was presented at the moving wall in Kansas City, Missouri. The letter reads, “I understand this particular memorial is dedicated to the healing process. The healing of our nation and the healing of individuals and families. My wounds like others are the type that are hard to see. I carry mine around in my mind. I was a combatant classified as a non- combatant. I was and still am a medical corpsman. I continue to this day to defend our great nation. I still believe in our way of life. I still believe in you, you, all of you. There should be no political statement in this memorial. Nor in this passage. I choose to believe there is none. Nor is any incurred or intended. There should be a maximum of understanding or empathy. Never sympathy. This statement, this memorial I believe is not meant to glorify the events surrounding it. Again to aid in the healing process that you and I are entitled to. I have bottled up my feelings all these years. Let us resolve to help each other heal.” And it’s signed a Vietnam Combat Veteran. I know who wrote this and I’ll say the person was a friend of mine. Thank you all very much. May God bless America and may America bless God. Thank you all.

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