Philip Ballou served as a Staff Sergeant in the 1771 Air Transport Command, Army Air Force, in the Pacific Theater, 1943 to 1946.
Phil had a very unique wartime story. He is the first person I have ever met whose mother served in the same war. Hazel Ballou, a 38-year-old legal secretary during peace time, enlisted in the WACs a month before her 18-year-old son Phil was drafted into the Army. Ironically, they both got their 30-day leave before deployment at the same time, so were able to spend time together at home.
Home was Clarion, Iowa, a tiny town in the north central part of the state where Phil grew up with his younger brother Stuart, his mother Hazel, and his maternal grandparents. He also met his future wife Mildred “Mim” there while still in childhood. Mim was the daughter of a local farmer and went to a rural grade school but attended Clarion High School.
Active in most sports in high school, Phil also had an unusual side job. Due to his mother’s work as a secretary to three lawyers, Phil was given the task of composing scales and tables for their farm owner clients, for tax purposes, a technique he perfected. He seemed to have a natural talent for organization of data and information.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Phil remembers he was at home when the news hit the Midwest in early afternoon. Everyone gathered around the nearest radio the next day to hear President Roosevelt address congress and request a declaration of war. All the boys and men knew someday it would be their turn and they would be joining this war. Some of the male teachers and even some male students joined the military immediately. The male teachers sometimes would leave midterm or at the end of the semester. Their teaching duties were assumed by the female teachers, but “You never knew who the coach was going to be week to week.” But sports in the schools continued.
Phil wore eyeglasses and when he played football, he had to wear a mask, which was custom made for him at Iowa State University. Duringfootball season, he had a standing appointment with the eye doctor on Saturday morning to get his eyeglasses readjusted. They would take quite a beating during Friday night’s game.
Another sport in which he participated was track and field. Phil was running second in the district high hurdles when he fell onto a hurdle, bounced onto the cinder track, embedding cinder into his shoulder. He also managed to get a knot on the back of his knee.
So, he presented for his military physical with eyeglasses, cinders in his shoulder and a knot on the back of his knee. He was rejected. However, after high school graduation in May 1943, the government reconsidered and Phil was drafted, sent to Camp Barkley, Texas for basic training for eight weeks. He was then sent to additional training as a medical corpsman, learning to give shots and how to wrap various dressings. In about his fifth week of medical training, someone noticed he had taken typing and shorthand in school. (This was done at his mother’s insistence. Phil was the lone male in a class of 21 students.) So, he was asked to take the test to be a stenographer.
He did pass the test and that was the end of his basic training. “I didn’t know of any general who wanted a male stenographer, but there I was.” Phil was then sent on his 30-day leave and he returned home to enjoy that time with mom Hazel on leave from the WACs, and the rest of their family. Hazel was going East and Phil knew he would be going West.
“I was to go to Camp Beale, California to go overseas. They told me that perhaps there was an opening in the air force over there.” He went overseas by boat, 30 days to Brisbane, Australia. “They took us to a little camp about 30 miles outside of Brisbane. We spent, I think, a couple of weeks there and they said to Ralph (Phil’s captain), they need you at the Air Transport Command Headquarters of the Southwest Pacific in Guadalcanal. So, we went to New Caledonia, Noumea, to Guadalcanal Henderson Field. Thewar was over, we still had a few fighters coming down from Bougainville (New Guinea, Solomon Islands) but they weren’t doing too much.”
So, Phil became a member of the Air Transport Command Central Office Headquarters as an 18-year-old stenographer. But they did not really need a stenographer, they needed somebody to help with administration, completing, organizing and transporting records, doing personnel and materiel reassignments, and so forth. His unit’s job was basically to “turn out the lights” in the areas where the American forces were finished fighting.
They put them in a “little shack” with the other top NCs (noncommissioned officers), and being a private, Phil was put in charge of multiple projects. They started with planes and people coming in and their classifications. He would read through their records, match them up with a place that wanted their skills and reassign them. They went up the island chain from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, with Phil eventually being promoted to Staff Sergeant. He gives the credit to his captain for molding him into a responsible self-confident young man during his service and instilling a “can do it” attitude.
Phil feels that he has been very lucky throughout his life, especially during the war and not just because of his great captain. His mother ended up with a special unit to another organization in Hollandia, New Guinea. Phil was on Guadalcanal, found his mom’s APO number, and his captain gave him 3 days’ leave. He hopped on a plane, met his mom at the gate with the MP guard (see photo). The 3-day leave was graciously stretched to 7 days, inside the women’s compound. The guards were all on the outside, “I’m the only male inside. With mother and the other WACs.” It must have felt like being back in high school shorthand and typing class.
Although they heard about FDR’s death, Hitler’s death and Victory in Europe day, the men in the Pacific were occupied with preparation for the invasion of Japan and their day-to-day duties. Once they got back to the Philippines, they were stockpiling ships and all types of materiel for the planned invasion. The troops werestill fighting in some parts of the Pacific as well. It was on their minds that the invasion would result in extremely high casualties with an anticipated loss of a minimum of half a million American lives plus a few million Japanese lives. There was also the matter of reconstruction in the Philippines and the other islands which had been battered by 7 years of war.
Prior to landing in the Philippines, Phil’s primary source of entertainment and passing time was writing letters home to his brother, grandparents, Mim, and to his mother. Once they got to the Philippines, with the war there being over, there was a little more to do as far as movies, etc.
When August came and a new atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there was a small celebration among the American forces. Three days later, there was a big celebration after the second bomb because they then knew the war was essentially over and they would be going home – alive. Not only would an estimated half million American lives be spared but also a few million Japanese who were anticipated to perish during the invasion.
A highlight of the months in the Philippines came in early 1946. A traveling baseball team comprised of some professional ball players, was making the rounds in the Pacific, playing pickup teams at various American military bases. Phil was reluctantly drafted to play second for the base team, though he had never been a ball player. The pitcher for the traveling team was Kirby Higby, first base Max Macon and the catcher was a young 18-year-old kid named Joe Garagiola. In the 1980s, Phil and Joe would briefly cross paths again while owning units in the same beachside condo building for a time.
Mim was at home, teaching school in Winterset, Iowa, anticipating Phil’s separation from the service which came in Spring 1946. They were married 10 days after Phil returned. Mim sewed her own wedding dressing and managed to get everything planned and ready within 10 days. Phil spent the summer helping Mim’s dad on the farm, learned to drive a tractor and maneuver its steel wheels.Then they both went off to Drake University in the fall of 1946, Phil on the GI Bill and Mim on a scholarship. Phil got a paper route delivering the Des Moines Journal morning and evening editions to supplement the meager 90 dollars a month they received from his government allotment. It was a pretty tough job during those cold Iowan winters. He also caddied when he could. The golf course was about a mile away so he would walk, hitchhike, or pay 10 cents for fare on the street car.
They graduated from Drake in 1949. She taught one year, had their son Stephen in 1950, then opened the first licensed nursery school in Iowa with an enrollment of 22 three and four-year-olds. He taught three years, got his master’s from Drake in 1952. They were living in Winterset, about 30 miles southwest of Des Moines, at the time. Previously they had applied to the Des Moines school district for teaching jobs but were told they did not hire married couples. If the policy changed in the future, the district recruiter would follow up with them. In 1952, the district changed their policy, Mim and Phil sold their home in Winterset and moved to Des Moines for their teaching positions. They got a house that was twice as big and enjoyed their life in Des Moines and raising Stephen. In 1955, they decided to work on doctorates at Northern Colorado State University and each summer, they would pack up their belongings and Stephen, rent out their Des Moines house for the summer, and live in Greeley, Colorado, to work on their doctorates. By Fall 1960, they had their doctorates. Things moved rather quickly and they both ended up with positions at Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana), Mim in Education and Phil in Education Administration.
Both of them had remarkable careers. They were a “power couple” before the term was coined. Their careers were focused on helping people. Through the years of raising their son and working in their professions, Phil and Mim managed to find time for civic services. Phil was and still is involved in veteransorganizations and also has maintained contact with school friends for decades.
Phil has had some remarkable coincidences in his life. His mother joining the WACs in the same war into which he was later drafted, getting a 30-day leave at the same time, then mother being posted within visiting distance of him, Mim waiting for him through his 2-1/2 years of service, so it should not surprise you to learn of another coincidence. When Phil was a boy, he went to summer camp in northern Minnesota for two weeks one summer. On a lake canoe trip, a terrible storm came up, and things were a bit scary for awhile but the camp counselor was really great, kept everyone relatively calm, and things turned out well. Later, while at Ball State and working on the NCAA committee for that university, met his old camp counselor – Bud Wilkinson (football coach at Oklahoma –13 consecutive conference titles).
Phil continues to be active in veterans’ events and organizations. He has served in various offices of veterans organizations when he lived up North and has been very involved in Marco-Naples veterans organizations since moving to Marco Island full time in 2004. His beloved Mim passed away in 2013, a life well and fully lived. Stephen is very involved in his father’s life, having retired from his own career as a school psychologist. Phil is frequently seen driving the golf cart while Stephen perfects his swing.
Some of you may see Phil at veterans events. He wears his Sons of the American Revolution uniform frequently, with a tricorn hat. When you see him, I hope you recognize him as one of the 13 million Americans (about 10% of the population at that time) who “just” did their jobs. We are so fortunate that they did.
Phil speaks frequently of the good luck he has had in the life, but while I was listening to his story the phrase, “The harder I work, the luckier I get” popped into my mind. We are lucky to have Phil and the many other veterans like him as neighbors here on Marco. Thank you, Phil Ballou, for your past and continued service to this country and our community.