A Time To Honor Veterans

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This is not just a Veterans Day story about an ex-Marine who needed help and got it.

It's also the story of a community that is always there, that always bands together, it seems, when one of its own could use a lift up.

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Payson resident Roger Ballard will represent the Marine Corps as one of four grand marshals in Saturday's Veterans Day parade down Main Street.

The ex-Marine is Roger Ballard. You've almost certainly read about this 66-year-old Payson resident in the Roundup.

In November, 1997, Ballard was diagnosed with ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, best known as Lou Gehrig's disease. While the first symptoms of this terminal condition usually affect muscle movement in the legs, Ballard was struck in the muscles of his throat, rendered incapable of speech, and forced to use a TTY keyboard-telecommunications device in order to communicate.

In 2001, after living six months longer than his doctors had predicted, Ballard hiked from Payson to Scottsdale to help raise awareness of, and research funds for, ALS. And just last month, he finished his third cross-country walk for the cause, bringing his total of funds raised to $4,000.

Ballard's most recent adventure, however, was not one of his choosing. A few weeks ago, he set out on a road trip from Payson to Seattle to visit with his children and brand-new granddaughter, perhaps for the last time.

But within days, Ballard returned home, out of money and patience for a 1979 pickup truck that broke down every few hundred miles.

Ballard mailed a letter to the Roundup detailing the events of that aborted trip, and it was published.

This was no "woe is me" missive though. It was a chronicle of all the people who helped him, or tried to help him, along the way. And it ended in this way:

"This past two weeks has been a catalyst for me, in the sense that I must (and will) do more for others to fulfill the purpose of my extended life stay ... to inspire others to enjoy their remaining time ... too help them see that they are blessed with good and grace by their friends."

Immediately, the Roundup began receiving calls from local residents offering help, all of them requesting anonymity. Among them were several offers of cash donations, and one offer of two paid-for round trip airline tickets from Phoenix to Seattle.

As it turned out, Ballard cannot fly because of his condition. Still, a solution was worked out: his son and daughter would fly to Arizona. The family reunion is on.

Make no mistake when that news was shared with Ballard, he was very happy. But what was foremost on his mind is what is always foremost on his mind: helping others.

This former Marine wanted to know if the deadline had passed to enter the Payson Veterans Day Parade, scheduled to roll down Main Street at 11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 9.

Might be a good opportunity to raise a bit more awareness of, and maybe a bit more money for, ALS, he reasoned.

From the Roundup offices, a telephone call was placed to retired Marine Corps Colonel Bill Sahno, an organizer of the town's upcoming Veterans Day observance. Not only could Ballard participate in the parade, Sahno said, but he could be one of its four grand marshals, representing the Marines.

Sahno was asked if he could repeat that offer after the telephone receiver had been handed to Ballard. Sahno happily agreed.

After Ballard learned that he was going to be a Payson Veterans Day Parade grand marshal, he grinned, reached for his TTY, and typed out a message of his own to Sahno:

"Semper Fidelis."

Veterans Day in Payson

This year's Veterans Day recognition "promises to be the biggest and best patriotic event Payson has ever celebrated," swears Lee Pretsch, who seems to organize all local happenings which involve an American flag.

The gala will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, with a flag-raising ceremony at the Mazatzal Casino, followed by a free breakfast in the casino's bingo hall free to each attending veteran and one guest. All vets who enter will receive a special arm band and a free $10 match/play from the casino.

The Veterans Day Parade will begin at Sawmill Crossing at 11 a.m., and it will roll down Main Street to Green Valley Park.

A few of the parade entrants committed to participate by press time were Smokey Bear (courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service), the El Zaribah Shrine, the Masons, the Marine Corps League, the Luke Air Force Base Color Guard, the Boy Scouts of America, Bison Ranch, the Arizona National Guard, the Beeliners Quartet, the Sunsations precision drill team, the Civil Air Patrol Cadets, the Zane Grey Twirlers, the Mount Cross Clowns, J & L Glass Co., Lincoln Doors, Mayor Ken Murphy, the Payson High School Band, the Payson Fire Department, Cub Scout Pack No. 7354, Miss Rodeo Arizona and the Grand Marshal float.

"There are other entries that we know will be coming but they have not confirmedyet," Pretsch said.

At Green Valley Park, the crowd will be treated to a flyover by the Air National Guard and a static display of men and equipment and at 1 p.m., the official Veterans Day ceremony will begin at the bandstand.

For more information of Payson's Veterans Day activities, call Lee Pretsch at (928) 474-2170.

It was a veteran ...

It was a veteran, not a reporter,

Who guaranteed freedom of the press.

It was a veteran, not a poet,

Who guaranteed freedom of speech.

It was a veteran, not a campus organizer,

Who guaranteed freedom to demonstrate.

It was a veteran who salutes the flag,

Risks it all for the flag,

and who is buried beneath a flag.

God bless America's veterans!

from Ponderosa Manor, Veterans Helping Veterans, 212 W. Wade Lane, Payson

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