At 84 years old, Lt. Col. Arthur T. ‘Ted’ Ballard Jr., retired from the U.S. Air Force, would still be flying fighter jets if he could.
“I miss flying those combat missions,” he says, talking with his hands to show the climbs, dives and evasive maneuvers. “You took your life in your hands every time you got in the cockpit. The adrenaline was always flowing.”
Ballard flew 67 successful combat missions during the Vietnam War before being shot down over North Vietnam. He was captured and spent time in several POW camps, including the “Hanoi Hilton,” before his release. He was awarded military medals including a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross. His memoir, “From the Dungeons of North Vietnam, Return With Honor,” describes the experiences he and his fellow prisoners of war endured. It includes stories of torture and degradation, but also of faith, hope and camaraderie among the POWs under horrific conditions. His series of stories called “Christmas in the Dungeons of North Vietnam” provides a particularly moving picture of life as a prisoner of war. Read Ballard’s POW Christmas story at www.12tfw.org/christmasesindungeons.pdf.
When Ted Ballard left for his assignment in Vietnam, his son, Kevin, was a 6 year old with a crew cut common on young boys in the 1960s. After almost seven years as a prisoner of war, however, Ballard returned home to a 13-year-old stranger with long blond hair who was as tall as his mother.
“I thought he was an escort officer when I first saw him standing with Ruth. I didn’t care for the hair, but I didn’t make him cut it,” says Ballard. “We got to know each other again, and I even sort of started to like the hair.”
Dr. Kevin Ballard ’80 graduated from Spartanburg High School, earned a National Merit Scholarship and finished Wofford College in three years as the top chemistry student. Marriage to Dr. Elizabeth Johnson ’82 followed along with an M.D. and Ph.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina and a distinguished career as director of analysis and toxicology for the National Medical Services in Pennsylvania. He was a nationally recognized expert in the field of forensic science and an expert witness in many high-profile criminal cases before his untimely death in 2009.
“Kevin was a mechanical genius. He could look at it and fix it,” says Ballard. “Ruth and I were both very proud of him. After his death we decided to change our wills. Kevin had a good experience at Wofford, so we wanted to donate a scholarship that would benefit a Wofford student.”
When Ruth died on Dec. 16, 2015, Ted Ballard established the Dr. Kevin Dale Ballard ’80 Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wofford in memory of both Kevin and Ruth. It will be awarded for the first time to a deserving student in the fall of 2017. Preference will go to top students who plan to pursue a career in science, technology or medicine. Other considerations include financial need, military service or Junior ROTC or ROTC participation.
“Ted Ballard is a remarkable man with an incredible story to share. We are honored by his service and the sacrifice he has made for the good of our country and the good of Wofford College,” says President Nayef Samhat. “Remembering his son and his wife with this scholarship speaks volumes about his priorities and commitment to family and education.”
Ted Ballard always wanted to be a pilot. He was 8 or 9 when World War II started and remembers watching fighter pilots train at the downtown Spartanburg airport. He tried to enlist at the age of 16 but was turned away because he was too young. After graduation from Spartanburg High School, Ballard worked his way through an associate’s degree from Spartanburg Junior College and then entered Clemson University to study engineering. He left Clemson when he says he “ran out of money and ideas.”
“I had friends in Korea, and I wanted to be there with them,” says Ballard. “I checked out the Air Force and then decided to enter their aviation cadet school. I chose jet fighters.” He went on to pilot some of the first supersonic aircraft. “I had fun flying the F-86 through the Grand Canyon, and I was one of the first to fly the F-100 and F-104. It was beautiful.”
Ballard was flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, nicknamed the “Thud,” when he was shot down while on a combat mission in North Vietnam. He was captured and was a prisoner of war from September 1966 until March 1973.
Because of beatings he endured as a POW, Ballard had to have a portion of his skull removed and replaced with plastic after he returned to the States. His medical treatment and recovery lasted until August 1973. “They grounded me after that.”
Both Ted and Ruth decided to finish their bachelor’s degrees after Ted’s return. Ted went on to earn his M.A. degree and serve on the faculty of the USAF War College before retiring in August 1975. He and Ruth returned to live in Spartanburg, and Ted assumed the position of senior instructor for the Air Force Junior ROTC program at Gaffney (S.C.) High School, where he taught for 22 years, retiring in 1997.
Ballard continues to write and speak with groups who want to learn more about his experiences as a U.S. Air Force pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“I didn’t care much for speaking about it at first, but I did it anyway because the American people needed to hear it,” says Ballard. He now has given hundreds of talks.
Ballard says most people ask the same questions about his experiences as a POW: How did you finally learn you were going home? What was it like to return home? Did you know about the protests going on in the United States while you were in captivity? “One time I was talking to a third-grade class about it. When I asked if anyone had questions, 38 hands went up. They kept me busy for another hour!”
He answers questions with patience and always gives credit to Ruth for her service as well. She was an active member of the Wives of Vietnam POWs until his return in 1973. He dedicates his memoir to Ruth, “who bore those seven difficult years with strength and dignity, while taking her place in the community. I am so proud of her and her accomplishments, and especially the way she raised our son, Kevin.”
Now Ruth’s contributions, Kevin’s brilliant career and Ted’s military and public service, as well as his teaching career, will always be remembered through the Dr. Kevin Dale Ballard ’80 Endowed Scholarship Fund and the generations of students who will benefit. What a fitting tribute.
by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89
There are two ways to endow a scholarship at Wofford:
- A minimum of $50,000, payable over five years, establishes a named, permanently endowed scholarship.
- A commitment of $25,000, payable over five years, coupled with a documented estate/insurance plan for an additional $100,000, establishes a named, permanently endowed scholarship. This option offers the donor the opportunity to establish the scholarship with a lower initial gift when it is combined with a generous planned gift.
The sky is the limit on the upper end: The greater the fund size, the greater the benefit to Wofford students.