After what Don “Doc” Ballard has been through, he is especially appreciative of the freedom he has as an American. And as a fisherman and hunter.
During the Vietnam War, he was a Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine unit in the war zone. As he was treating several Marines, the North Vietnamese launched grenades, one of which hit his helmet, another which landed practically in his lap. Ballard tossed several of the grenades aside and smothered another, diving on it to save the fallen Marines he was treating.
When it didn’t go off, he tossed it away. It exploded in the air.
Years later, Ballard was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. Today, he lives in Grain Valley and continues to reflect on that day that changed his life.
He enjoys fishing and hunting, a passion he developed during his childhood. But if it weren’t for America’s servicemen, he knows he wouldn’t be enjoying those freedoms.
“We are complacent here in the United States,” said Ballard, 70. “We don’t know what a lack of freedom means. We take things for granted.
“While in the service, I was in a lot of different countries, and I saw how little they had. They didn’t have much in the way of things like fishing and hunting.
“We are so lucky.”
Ballard will try to get that message across wen he participates on the Heartland Outdoor Days on Saturday at the Independence Bass Pro Shop. He will lead a Pledge to the Flag ceremony at 9 a.m. in the Bass Pro parking lot, then he will speak at a “Celebrate Outdoor Freedom” presentation at noon in the store.
His involvement is just part of what will make Heartland Outdoor Days special.
▪ From Thursday night through Saturday, artists from across the nation will display their work at the National Wildlife Art Show. The event , which will be based at the Stony Creek Hotel and Convention Center, will start with an event welcoming the artists to the show Thursday night, with show hours noon to 8 p.m. Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
▪ Live raptors will be displayed by the Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield during the art show.
▪ Duck callers from across the country will compete in the Grand Slam calling contests Saturday.
▪ A meet-and-greet session with representatives of conservation groups also is set for Saturday.
▪ Demonstrations on kayaking, fishing electronics, elk bugling, the use of Trac Chairs (all-terrain wheelchairs), and fly fishing will be featured.
▪ Singer Liz Moriondo will perform throughout the day Saturday.
For Ballard, who still is an avid fisherman, that amounts to a good weekend.
“Put a rod and reel, a shotgun or a rifle in my hands, and it is very soothing,” Ballard said. “I never take the outdoors for granted.”