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Duluth recognizes local Purple Heart recipients

Photo: Jennifer Stalcup. From left, Wayne Ballard, Bill Stockell and Ryan McPherson were awarded Purple Hearts after they were injured during military service. The men were among the Purple Heart recipients honored during Duluth's Memorial Day ceremony Saturday.

Photo: Jennifer Stalcup. From left, Wayne Ballard, Bill Stockell and Ryan McPherson were awarded Purple Hearts after they were injured during military service. The men were among the Purple Heart recipients honored during Duluth's Memorial Day ceremony Saturday.

DULUTH -- It was a bloody season for Wayne Ballard.

In early August 1966, a booby trap in Vietnam left shrapnel in his left leg. At the end of the month, it happened again.

Then in October, Ballard stepped on a mine during a firefight with the enemy. He lost part of his right leg and was again hit by shrapnel is his left one.

That time, the Norcross man got his third Purple Heart and finally a trip back home.

"I seen it every day," Ballard said of the ravages of war. "We just done what we had to do. We got patched up and went back."

This Memorial Day weekend, while Ballard and many of his other fellow survivors spent the holiday thinking about the friends they lost in battle, residents in Duluth paused Saturday to celebrate the men who came home, injured but alive, the men who received Purple Hearts.

"I praise the Lord. I had a blessed life," said Ballard, who walked with a prosthesis until a few years ago. "The Lord wasn't through with me, and he brought me home. A lot of my friends didn't get to come home. I may not be all in one piece, but I'm here."

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, who handed out commemorative coins to the Purple Heart recipients, said the weekend is always bittersweet, but that words of recognition are a small part to pay back the men and women who have sacrificed for their nation.

"Freedom is not a gift that the Constitution gave us. Freedom is a gift from God," he said, acknowledging the 21 men from his district who have died in service to their country since 2005. "Freedom is not free. It's real and it's transient. ... We cannot repay the debts we owe to the men and women who have fallen, but we can absolutely help those who came home."

Bill Stockell, who received a proclamation at Duluth's ceremony Saturday, as a representative of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said the wounds don't go away.

He was "blown up," while tracking the enemy through pineapple fields just outside of Saigon in 1969.

"Nowadays, they call it IED (improvised explosive device). Back in the day, they called it a booby trap," Stockell said. "My cover man was killed, and I was severely injured. ... It took five operations to put Humpty Dumpty back together again."

After his Army retirement, Stockell worked as an attorney to help disabled veterans and their dependents receive their benefits.

Most people, he said, "don't spend five minutes to find out what Memorial Day is all about. It's about what people did for their country, and that is how (people) can do all those other things."

For Ryan McPherson, who was injured nearly 40 years after Stockell, it was an IED in Iraq that changed his life.

"I'm happy to say I'm doing very well now" after three surgeries, he said, adding that he was proud to be recognized alongside the Purple Heart recipients that came before him in wars like Vietnam.

"One of the many reasons I joined (the Army) was to repay the men and women who served before me," he said. "To be recognized alongside of them is a first and it's a real honor."