Monday, May 24, 2010

Borrowed Time - Lloyd Ballard and the 102nd Ozark Division

Lloyd Ballard with a case full of his WWII honors. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

(Note: For the past five years, World War II veterans have been dying at an average of more than 1,000 a day. This is the second of two Reflection columns devoted to a pair of local Ann Arbor veterans and their stories of war.)

Lloyd Ballard turned 90 on Friday, but he’ll be the first to tell you he’s living on borrowed time.

Thanks to his ailing heart, Ballard has already made six trips to the hospital in the back of an ambulance this year, but each time he’s managed to rebound and return home to his wife Geneva. Now that he’s made it to his 90th birthday, Geneva is hoping he’ll be around for their 66th wedding anniversary in September, and maybe her 90th birthday in late October.

But Ballard isn’t so sure he wants to be around that long. He’s confined to a life in a chair these days. If he lies down for an extended period of time, it could kill him. It’s hardly the quality of life he wants, so he spends most of his time working on jigsaw puzzles, and doing something else he never thought he would do – talk about World War II.

For nearly six decades, Ballard was mum on his war experience. Not even Geneva was privy to some of the horrors Ballard faced as a member of the United States Army 102nd Infantry Division. It wasn’t until a few years back, when his grandson Andrew, a fifth grader at the time, asked him about the war that he started to open up.

And when he did open up, he had quite a story to tell.

“He asked me the hardest question of all.” Ballard said, recalling the moment. “He said, ‘Grandpa, did you ever kill a man?’”

To this day, Ballard has a hard time giving a direct answer to that question.

“When you’re a rifleman – the first echelon – you’re the one who does all the dirty work.” He said.

Ballard’s war experience started in 1944, when the Ann Arbor native was drafted and went to California for basic training. There he was trained to fight the Japanese, but instead, found himself heading to Europe to fight Germans. Before Ballard headed overseas in October of 1944, he and Geneva were married while he was on leave. The two wouldn’t see each other again for more than two years.

When he got to Europe, Ballard was trained as a rifleman in Belgium before becoming a member of the Ghost Army – a stint that left him completely exhausted. In the Ghost Army, Ballard and his fellow soldiers were constantly on the march, sometimes 20-miles a day, joining other American units trying to fool the Germans into thinking U.S. troops were bigger than they actually were.

“We were moving all the time.” Ballard said. “I was dead tired, I couldn’t have fought even if I wanted to – there were times I wish I’d have got shot.”

Thankfully, Ballard was integrated into the 102nd Ozark Division, and for the first time he felt like part of a an actual unit. It was as a member of the 102nd, that Ballard fought some of the fiercest land battles of the war.

“There’s not a day between October and March where I don’t know exactly where I was.” Ballard said of his time in Germany. “I can’t forget a lot of the things that I saw and did.” He added.

Among those memories is a fierce firefight with a German Panzer division right after the 102nd crossed the Roer River.

“They came at us seven times,” Ballard said, “and all we had were guns.”

Ballard remembers his sergeant asking him how many rounds he had left during a break in the fighting.

“I had two clips left (eight bullets in a clip). When I started I had 400 bullets. Thank goodness they (the Germans) pulled back, if they hit us one more time they would have pushed us back over the river.”

For his actions fighting back the German tanks, Ballard was nominated for a Bronze Star – a medal he only recently received and still has no idea who nominated him.

Other memories aren’t so fond.

Ballard recalls rather vividly seeing his buddy get accidentally shot through with machine gun fire from one of their own gunners. He also remembers all too well the horrific site of a barn in Gardelegen where more than 300 slave laborers were locked up, doused with gasoline, and then set on fire by the Germans once they realized the town was about to fall. But worst of all is the memory of the children soldiers the SS used at the end of the war.

“Their rifles were bigger than they were.” Ballard said. “They’d come down from the hillsides and start shooting - killing every German soldier who had surrendered. We had no choice but to shoot them.” Ballard’s voice trails off at the recollection. “Some of those things – the kids – the concentration camps – they’ll be with me until they bury me.”

“Back then I was living on borrowed time too.” Ballard said. “I thought about dying every day, I was always scared.”

These days Ballard doesn’t think about death all that much, saying he’s already faced it so many times he doesn’t worry about it anymore. His biggest fear is being a burden to his wife and family. But he hopes that when the time does come, it will be a peaceful ending.

“MacArthur once said that old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Ballard joked, “But what I’d like and what actually happens might be two different things.”


  1. Lon thank you so much for the great photo and article. It means the world to me and i'm sure you know how much it means to my mom and dad. I will always be grateful to you. Kevin Ballard

  2. Lon, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The article is wonderful. You have given my family a gift that can never be equaled and I am forever in your debt.
    Teresa Ballard Roberts

  3. I'm touched by your article and photo, thanks so much for sharing Lloyd's story. I grew up living next door to Lloyd and Geneva, so it is really special to learn more about Lloyd's heroism after all these years.
    Karin Lutter Arizala

  4. Lon, Thank you so much for the wonderful article about our grandfather!!! The picture is great; and the words written have touched our hearts! We can't thank you enough!! With much gratitude, Michelle Roberts Benton,Tim McFryII, Chris Upham, Joshua Benton and Timmy McFryIII

  5. This is such a wonderful article about my Uncle Lloyde, it brought tears to my eyes. The picture is perfect! I am so very proud of him, not only for what he went through during WW2; but also for the family man he is, and has always been.

    Linda Keebler

  6. Wow. Surging the internet i found this. I work at a museum in Heerlen, Netherland, once there was a restcenter for the OZARK 102nd. A lot of men who fought in the war sended the stuf they have to this museum so it can be showed to anybody who wants to see it. I am working to get all the letters foto's etc from them to the family and all the other goods online in a digital archive. You all have my respect.

    Rudi (ruudvdo @ gmail. com)