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Sergeant father welcomes home sergeant son

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

It was 1969: The year that U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam exceeded the number of Americans killed in the Korean War. Things didn't improve much for some soldiers when they returned home. Austinite and former Marine Sergeant Sam Ballard remembers landing at the San Francisco Airport but not exiting the plane.

"The stewardess — that's what we called them back then — told us we couldn't get off the doggone plane," Ballard, a former police officer, recalls. "There were war protesters. I didn't know what that meant."

Ballard was diverted to San Diego. "I kissed the tarmac," he says. "Burned my lips." Ballard, who worked for the Austin Police Department and briefly served as police chief in Lago Vista, didn't want his son, also a Marine, to feel unwelcome when he returned from three years' service overseas. So he planned a surprise homecoming party at El Arroyo on Wood Hollow Drive last week. Three dozen people gathered over beers and buffet to welcome Sgt. Michael Ballard.

His mother, Jan Ballard, is a retired accountant who worked for the University of Texas for 34 years. Both introduced me around the subdued celebration.

The younger Ballard, 23, was among an elite corps of Marines who guard U.S. embassies. His tour included Chad, Uganda and France.

"You are always tense and aware," says the Anderson High School graduate. "In Chad, you had Niger on one side, and they are going through troubles, and Libya on another, and they had a revolution, and Sudan to the east, and they had a civil war."

The sergeant plans to study history and pre-law at Texas Tech University and hopes to use contacts in the State Department and FBI to land a future career.

Contact Michael Barnes at mbarnes@statesman.com