July 12, 1920 – September 24, 2013
Bern Ballard, a gentle and accomplished man, passed away on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. He was born on July 12, 1920, near Inez, Texas, and was the sixth of eight children born to Edith and Ralph Ballard. His father was an itinerant farmer. By the time Bern was 13, his family had lived in half a dozen small Texas towns. In 1933, they settled in Austin, where Bern lived for the next 80 years.
Bern attended John Allen Jr. High School and Austin High School. In 1940, he and four friends enlisted in the Army National Guard. Shortly thereafter, the 36th Infantry Division was activated. Bern Ballard was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Quartermaster Regiment as a truck driver. “I think I may have been the only man in the Army that never got Basic Training,” he said at one time. “They just put me behind the wheel of a truck, and I started driving. “
In April 1943, the 36th Infantry Division was shipped to North Africa. After about four months, they took part in the invasion of Italy. As casualties mounted, Bern was transferred to the Infantry, where he served as a staff sergeant and company leader. His division continued north in the drive for Rome and then was part of the invasion of southern France and Germany. In the battle for Huertgen Forest, he was injured by mortar fire, for which he received the Purple Heart.
It was there that he learned about President Roosevelt’s death—one of his most distinct memories from the war. “It must have taken only a short time for word of his death to reach us in Europe,” he recalled. “I remember that we were on the way out of Huertgen Forest when that news came down. The company was not halted for the announcement to be made. The news 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 forward.’ 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. Those words 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 doesn’t forget.”
In addition to the Purple Heart, Bern received approximately a dozen different medals for his service, including a Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, and European Theatre of Operations Medal.
Bern came home from the war in 1945. He then worked as a bookkeeper for several years; opened a service station on Airport Blvd; and later sold insurance. In 1955, he got a job with the U.S. Post Office, where he worked for almost 20 years. Then, after purchasing some land in Burnet County, Bern began a career in real estate, subdividing and selling that land. He operated an antiques store on South Congress Avenue from 1982 to 1993. Over the years, Bern became a favorite interviewee for various media outlets when Veterans’ Day rolled around each year. He created a small W.W. II “museum” in his house and frequently opened it up to groups of school children. He wrote and published Under the Sea, a book about his World War II experiences. He worked with one of his nephews to create a website that profiled his years in the war.
In 2011, Bern was appointed a “Chevalier” in the French Legion of Honor in gratitude for his role in the liberation of France during the war. Bern received the medal during a private ceremony held at the French Embassy in Houston.
Bern is predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Mary Elizabeth Ballard; and his daughter, Harrilyn Ballard. He is survived by his son, Scott Ballard; his daughter-in-law, Virginia Ballard; and his grandsons, Max and Ryder Ballard, of Houston. He also leaves behind his brother Billy Ballard and his sister-in-law, Jean; his nephews, Stan, Brad, and Mark Ballard; and their families.
The family is extremely grateful to Brad and Charlotte Ballard, as well as their children, whose love and care enabled Bern to live independently up until a few months ago. The family also has tremendous gratitude for Bern’s tenant, Justin Cope, and family friend John Bolander, both of whom shuttled Bern wherever he wanted to go. And Bern was never without a list of places he needed to go and things he wanted done!
Grandpappa lived a rich, full life. He was a big, strong, kind man. He loved his little dogs –Rocky and Chocky. We will miss him.
- Visitation Saturday, September 28, 2013
- Funeral Service Sunday, September 29, 2013
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Col George O Lewis, USAF (Ret)
October 9, 2013
Thank you, Bern, for your service to our country.
Beverly Shelton Acker
October 2, 2013
I only met Bern one time, but he certainly sticks out in my memory. My cousin, Chester Spaw, who also worked at the Austin post office for years, caught a ride with Bern to his bay place, and I was invited over to meet him, since I live in Aransas Pass. Bern, Chester and another friend (whose name I forget) came to my home for dinner one of the days they were in the vicinity, and we had a great visit. Bern, like Chester, was just amazing and far outlived our expectations, but not our wishes. My sincere condolences to his family.
September 29, 2013
My Deepest Sympathy to the family. Bern's coffee friends will miss him.
Margarine G. Beaman, Austin, TX
Julie Templeton Drake
September 28, 2013
Bern was a bookkeeper for my grandparent's (Carl and Willie Mae Templeton's) Gulf gas station. He was a loyal friend of our family. More recently, Bern was kind enough to share his World War II experiences with my nephew for his school project. We are sad to hear of his passing. He will always be remembered fondly by us.
September 28, 2013
My dad, Billy Ballard is the youngest and now, only surviving son of Ralph and Edith Ballard (Pop Ballard and Grandma). Bern was one of several of their sons and daughters, including Melburn, C.T., Erin and Leona (Pickie). Daddy likes to tell the story of how, when Pop Ballard came home to Bern and Pickie's childhood bickering, he would throw one out the front door and the other out the back.
Each of the Ballard sons served proudly in WWII and C.T. lost his life when the plane he volunteered to navigate was shot down over Europe. Bern's illustrious military career was a focal point in his life and is well chronicled in his obituary and on the Purple Heart website at:
Over the course of time, Bern wrote a novel, “On to the Sea” loosely based on his wartime exploits. With the help of his son Scott, he later self-published it.
Pop Ballard and Grandma's family home was on a half block tract along South First Street in South Austin. Pop Ballard's mattress factory was at the bottom of the hill and each of Bern and his siblings had built houses lining Wintergreen lane going up the hill. Early in their respective marriages, they had lived there, but by the time I came along, the houses other than Pop Ballard's were rent houses. My brothers and I learned plumbing, roofing and repairs in the upkeep of those houses and I eventually lived in one of them myself.
As a kid, every Sunday after church, Momma (Jean) and Daddy would take my 2 brothers Stan and Brad and I over to Pop Ballard and Grandma's for fried chicken dinner. Pop Ballard had a chicken coop in the back yard and aside from the chicken dinners, we always went home with fresh eggs. After lunch, the men and boys would settle in front of the black and white TV to watch baseball or Cowboys football under the water cooled window fan and the ladies would visit. Pop Ballard would cut a cigar in half, chew one half and save the other to smoke. His coffee can spittoon sat beside his recliner.
Over the course of the afternoon, we might be joined by Uncle Bern and Aunt Mary with Scott and Harrilyn, Uncle Ollie and Aunt Pickie with Wanda & Glenda, Aunt Erin and Uncle Hugh Lewallen and their families. On Christmas, we all crowded together for a feast and gift opening. I have many happy memories of the family gatherings and our childhood play in the cedar breaks across Wintergreen lane from Pop Ballard's house.
From my perspective as a scrawny kid, Uncle Bern was a big strapping man with a booming voice. He always had a great story to tell about his own exploits and about growing up in and around Austin – I might be privy to it if I hung around the outskirts of the men's conversation.
When I married and had kids of my own, we began hosting birthday parties and special occasions at our own home. Remembering with fondness the family gatherings of my own childhood, I always invited Uncle Bern to yet another generation of Ballard get-togethers. He always graciously attended.
Uncle Bern made an impact in a lot of lives over the extended course of his own. It goes without saying - we'll miss him.
September 27, 2013
We have known Bern since 1986. He was always a most kind, considerate, gentle man. He was very proud of two things. The first was his son and his family. And secondly, was service to his country, America. Stan and I extend our sympathy and prayers to his beloved family.
Stan and Harrilyn