Patriot, Chapter 1919
Army, WWII, Europe
was born near Inez, in Victoria County, Texas in 1920, one of six sons born
to the family of a tenant farmer.
Five of the six sons would survive to maturity
and the five all served in WWII, with one being killed in action.
father had a serious chronic illness that was misdiagnosed and as a result,
beginning when Bern
was three years old, they moved frequently during his childhood years in
unsuccessful attempts to find a favorable location for the father’s health.
By 1927 they had farmed at
(outside Ballinger) for two years, at Concho for a year and at Paint Rock
for a year, before moving to Hext, in
started to school.
The family started a business in the town of
but after the first year the business failed.
Following that, his father found a job with the
county and they moved into the city of Menard.
After that, the Ballard family lived in Melvin
16 miles from Brady) for another four years before making their last move,
was 1933 when they arrived in
says, “I’ve been here ever since except for my service in WWII.
My father had been a barber earlier in life and
he went to work as a barber again here. I attended John
Junior High School
and went through 7th Grade, at which time I made a decision to pursue
training in the Industrial Arts.
That trade schooling was taught at Austin
and I was in that program until 1939.
In 1940 I got a job with the Katy Railroad, but
then in October of that year myself and four other guys went out to Camp
and enlisted in the Army National Guard.
The Table of Allowances they were operating
under at the time did not allow us to go on Active Duty right away, so
initially we were signed up to Inactive Service.
But, that changed quickly.
On November 25, 1940 the 36th Infantry Division
was activated with all units to be assembled at Camp
was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Quartermaster Regiment.
They constituted the truck transportation
assets of the 36th Division.
was immediately assigned as a truck driver and he has this to say about it,
“I think I may be the only man in the Army that never got Basic Training.
They just put me behind the wheel of a truck
and I started driving.
We were equipped with 1938 Model, 1-Ton
Starting just before Christmas, we worked night
and day transporting units from their Guard Armories from all over
assembling the Division at
I remember making trips hauling to Brownwood
and know there were other places too that I can’t recall just now.
After about three months we had everybody at
March 1941, a detachment of 13 trucks and 13 drivers was sent to Camp
near Mineral Wells, to provide transportation services as part of the Corps
Area Cadre Command there.
Bern Ballard was one of those drivers and they
spent the week transporting troops around that training base.
On weekends they were detailed to transport the
men that were going on pass into town.
The drivers were issued MP brassards to give
the appearance of authority because they were also held responsible for
making sure all the men back to camp.
Sometimes it wasn’t easy because the men were
not always in a mood to cooperate when it was time to make the return trip.
was on that detail for three months.
June 1941 he was back with the division at
and during the next few months he participated in several small division
Then came a large-scale maneuver in Louisiana
that involved the entire division.
While on that maneuver in late 1941,
was injured in a truck accident.
After treatment, he was sent home on medical
leave. After a few days at home he received a regular furlough and he was
able to enjoy 15 days off before reporting back to his unit in
The division returned to Camp
in time to allow many of the men, including Bern Ballard, to spend Christmas
After that, Bern
was picked for a detail of 35 drivers that was sent to North Carolina.
He has this to say, “We were a pool of drivers
and our job was to transport officers that were there on umpire duty. These
were 36th Division officers that were also gaining knowledge of the area for
anticipated future maneuvers there by the 36th Division.
We 35 drivers came with no supervision and this
was a pretty wild bunch that took maximum advantage of that loose
I had a different car to drive every day and
drove for different officers almost every time.
The prominent Austin Judge, Tom Blackwell, at
that time was a Second Lieutenant in that officer detail, but I never drove
for him, apparently he had other duties and was not going out as an umpire.
About this time, the 36th was reorganized from a square division to a
(effective on Feb 1, 1942) and when it did the
Quartermaster Regiment of 1,100 men was inactivated and a new
36th Quartermaster Company of 200 men was
activated to replace it.
I was in the new QM Company and my job was
still driving trucks.”
division moved from Camp
in February 1942.
In July and August they participated in the
“Carolina Maneuvers,” and moved on from there to
at Cape Cod,
says, “We were in tents at
(then home of the Army’s Amphibious Training Command), but then later moved
to a satellite camp out on Washburn
where the division conducted amphibious training.
It was winter and I remember it being 20 below
zero, but the troops were all still out there training, climbing down cargo
nets, loading into landing craft and making practice beach landings. Then
after several weeks it was back to
and when we returned, barracks had been built so we had better quarters for
the remainder of our nine months there.”
April 1943, the 36th Infantry Division was shipped to
Loading onto trains at
and moving by rail directly to
they embarked on troop ships for
Shortly after their arrival, Rommel’s Afrika
Korps was defeated (May 1943), and
“Having arrived shortly before the fighting had ended, too late for the
division to be committed to combat, we were moved up the coast from Oran.
After about four months in North Africa we were
shipped from Algiers
to take part in the invasion of
We were left loaded on board ships for two or
three weeks before the invasion took place.
The division was part of the assault that went
in at Salerno, but it was the next day before my ship load was landed there
on Paestrum Beach and that was on D-Day + 1 (Sept 10, 1943).
We moved northward and were up to Casino, I
remember digging foxholes there.
division was then pulled back and moved up the coast by ship.
We were landed (on May 25, 1944) as
reinforcements at Anzio,
and then spearheaded the breakout and continued north in the drive for
The division was up north of
when it was again pulled back and, after a brief rest period at Paestrum,
once more loaded onto boats.
This time the 36th Division left
for good, and became
a part of the invasion going into
making an assault landing on August 15th.”
was with the 36th Quartermaster Company as the division continued operations
up through France
and by December was fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine.
But, then cuts were made in his unit and
Bern was among
the transportation personnel that were pulled out and sent to a Chateau near
for three weeks of Infantry training and then reclassification as an
had never even received Basic Training up to this point, and his record did
not change here, as he explains, “It was bitterly cold with snow, ice and
rain every day that made outdoor training impossible.
As a result, the only thing I learned was how
to field strip a rifle, and then they sent me off to the Replacement Depot.
(replacements) were put on a train in
took us to Belgium.
From the train we were loaded onto trucks that
moved toward the front, passing through the Siegfried Line into Germany and
on into the Huertgen Forest, the trip taking several days.”
arrived at his new unit, assigned and joined, to Company C, 309th Infantry
Regiment, 78th Infantry Division in early January 1945 when they were in
combat in the
The 78th Division had only recently arrived in
theatre and had been committed to action for less than a month but their
losses had already been heavy and they were in need of replacements when
Bern says, “Hurtgen Forest
was absolutely brutal, we were losing men every day and you could never know
Most casualties resulted from tree bursts from German
The forest was thick and anywhere a person moved, he
was beneath the trees. Enemy shells would detonate in the treetops
scattering lethal fragments over a far greater area and causing more
casualties than they would if detonating on the surface by ground contact in
I was wounded by a mortar shell tree burst on
January 14, 1945, after having been in Company C for only five or six days.
Medics at the aid station determined the shell
fragment in my right hand had not broken any bones so they did nothing
further than to bandage me up, and after about two hours, sent me on my way
back to my unit with a troublesome piece of steel remaining in my hand.
(April 12, 1945), and it must have taken only a short
time for word of his death to reach us in
Although I can’t say the exact date, I do
remember that we were finally on the march and on the way out of Huertgen Forest
when that news came down.
The company was not halted for the announcement
to be made, it was just sent up from the rear of the column.
As we were marching along each man in turn
would call it out to the man in front of him and then shout, “pass the word
Each of us would hear coming up from behind,
“pass the word forward,” “pass the word forward,” until it reached us and we
in turn repeated that awful message that the president was dead, and “pass
the word forward.”
That continued up the line of march in sequence
until the voices gradually faded from hearing.
It was one of those moments in life that a man
Company C was somewhere in Germany
on the day the war ended (V-E Day was May 8, 1945).
They were operating off the map and Bern
did not attach significance to their location on that particular day.
Afterward, the troops mostly “laid around
waiting for the point system to send them home.”
had been in the Army since the year before the war and had been overseas for
over two years, so
he had close to 200 points. Also, because all
the original men of the 78th Infantry Division had only been in Europe for
six months, Bern
had the most points of anyone in the division.
He should have been the first to be going home.
However, Bern Ballard was a Platoon Sergeant and he was the Battalion
Bayonet Drill Instructor.
The policy at the time was that anyone with a
battalion level job couldn’t go home no matter how many points he had.
A sympathetic Company Commander did him a favor
by reducing Bern
one grade, and then gave the stripe to his assistant, thus making him the
senior battalion bayonet instructor.
The way was then clear for Bern
to be put on orders to go home, and so it proceeded.
first stop on his journey back to the
was assembly with other returnees in some French barracks on the Maginot
was held there for several weeks and then was sent to Marseille.
From Marseille he was put on a plane to North
Africa, and from there to Bermuda and then Miami,
He then had a four-day train trip from Miami to
Barely two months after V-E Day, Bern Ballard
was discharged from the Army at Fort Sam Houston, July 18, 1945 and returned
home to Austin.
studied accounting in
and soon had employment as a bookkeeper.
While working that job he took further course
work in accounting (and was paid $35 monthly by the VA).
After seven years work in accounting,
opened a Service Station and went into business for himself.
Three years later he took up selling Insurance
and did that for two years.
In 1955 he got a job with the Post Office.
He retired from the Post Office in the 1970’s,
but in the meantime had obtained a Real Estate license and had bought some
land in Burnet
Upon leaving the postal service, he first began
selling real estate in
and then purchased, subdivided and sold land and he did very well at it.
In 1982 his old injuries caught up to him and
limited what he was able to do.
He opened an antique store on
South Congress Avenue,
and operated it until 1993.
That was also successful, but he retired from
business at that time.
had also been doing volunteer service work and he continued to be active
after retiring from his business career.
He worked as a fund-raiser and then was the
Treasurer for the Texas
in the museum’s early years under Brigadier General Jack Scribner. He has
been a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for nearly 30 years
and served as Adjutant of Chapter 3636 (a chapter of mostly 36th Infantry
Division WWII Purple Heart recipients), which disbanded recently due to
dwindling numbers, following which he transferred his membership to Chapter
In addition to
his home in the local area,
Bern had built
a house on the coast at Rockport, while still owning his Burnet
In retirement he had been
spending time in each place, but most recently he has decided to voluntarily
limit his travel and can normally be found here in Austin.
That works to our advantage since Chapter 1919
gets to see him more often that way, and this month PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly
salutes Patriot Bern Ballard.