A burglar stole tens of thousands of dollars in cash, gold coins and memorabilia from a Medal of Honor recipient on Sunday while he was away for a trip to recognize heroic citizens.
Don Ballard is the only living recipient of the Medal of Honor from Missouri, and he’s the owner of Swan Lake Memorial Park in Grain Valley at Valor Drive. Sunday afternoon while he was in Washington to honor two Columbia, Mo., residents for rescuing a person from a burning vehicle, his business was burglarized.
Ballard is still sifting through his possessions, but he estimated his loss exceeds $100,000.
“I’m sick, lost for words,” Ballard said Tuesday by phone.
Ballard has long been affiliated with Forgotten Veterans and its parent group, National Combat Medical Memorial & Youth Education Center. Aside from helping with burials, the group also funds outdoor learning facilities and camping trips for Boy Scout groups. Weapons stolen from Ballard were used for educational purposes with the scouts.
The stolen cash, which Ballard estimated at $25,000, was to be used for caskets and burial markers for vets. “They’re essentially stealing from dead veterans,” he said.
His Medal of Honor ring was also taken. Coins and various honors awarded to him during past Medal of Honor events are gone. A coin enthusiast, his many gold coins collected over a lifetime were stolen.
“It’s a lot of stuff I’ll never be able to recover,” Ballard said. “The person who stole this will probably melt it down. They won’t see the core value of it.”
Ballard said he was storing the items at his business because he was between storage units. The cash should have been in the bank, he acknowledged, but he’d been meaning to donate it to Forgotten Veterans, a nonprofit that defrays burial costs for veterans.
“The business was burglarized with a substantial loss,” said Sgt. John Payne with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
Payne said Tuesday that no suspects had been identified, but “we have some people we need to talk to.”
Ballard is a member of the Board of Directors for the Medal of Honor Society, and he often travels to award everyday citizens who do heroic deeds. The former Navy Corpsman was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon for his service in Vietnam. At the time, he was the only surviving Navy Corpsman to receive the highest military decoration.
“My job was to save lives, and I was credited with saving several lives,” Ballard said.
For this trip to Washington, he brought along his Medal of Honor. If he hadn’t, it probably would have been taken, too, he said.
Ballard added that he has his suspicions that the culprit or culprits knew him, knew that he was out of town and knew where he stored the cash and memorabilia.
“I think the reason I got hit was because I was out of town,” he said.
Already, however, he’s received donations from other organizations familiar with his philanthropy.
“I spent my entire life helping other organizations raise money,” Ballard said. “They know I do it for veterans and scouts, (but) this is the first time in my life I’ve had any need.”