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Veterans share war stories at history center
3 panelists recall ups, downs of years in military
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Shirley Hastings laughs as one veteran and panelist tells his story at the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville on Tuesday. Hastings attended the event because she has had several relatives that are veterans, and she wanted to hear the stories of the three panelists at the history center on Tuesday. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Their lives marked by major world conflicts, Scott Ballard, Heyward Hosch and Larkin “Bill” Vance still had room to laugh.

And laugh they did as they recalled stories Tuesday night from their years in the military — between them, spanning World War II to the Iraq War.

Vance’s mention of “one white chicken” in a report during the Belgian Congo uprising of the 1960s had more to do with cargo in an airlift, but the reference perplexed higher-ups.

“You’re driving everybody crazy back here. They can’t break the code of ‘one white chicken,’” Vance’s boss replied by radio.

But the men’s stories, told as part of the Northeast Georgia History Center’s Veterans of Northeast Georgia forum, marking today’s Veterans Day observance, had their serious side as well.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Scott Ballard, 50, recalled an experience serving in Fallujah during the Iraq War when he was speaking to a battle-worn Marine. He asked him how he was doing.

“Outstanding, couldn’t be better,” the Marine said.

“How so?” Ballard asked.

“You know, sir, most Americans are only ever afforded the opportunity to read history, but we’ve been given the opportunity to make it,” the Marine replied.

“That’s the kind of young person that is still being raised here in the U.S.,” Ballard told the audience, most of whom were older than Ballard and also had served in the military.

“Know and understand from me to you … that the generation that exists today, even though they’re all walking around with iPhones and iPads and not talking to each other, they got what it takes.

“We still make young men and women who want to wear the uniform and love doing it.”

Hosch, who served in Korea, recalled Army soldiers clearing areas at Fort Benning in Columbus of “unexploded ammunitions.”

The exercise backfired, literally, as an artillery shell fragment struck Hosch in the back of the skull and left his ear bleeding.

“I just knew I’d be court-martialed,” he said. “Ten days later, the Korean War started, so anything minor like that didn’t amount to anything, so that (incident) was just completely overlooked.”

Vance, a retired Army colonel, not only served in three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam — he also served in different stints in the Navy, Air Force and Army. He also served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C.

He talked about the rigors of war, especially in moments of combat, and the toll it takes on warriors.

In his World War II service, he talked about how kamikaze aircraft pilots who flew suicide missions into naval ships were only given enough fuel to make it to Okinawa.

“We had orders to shoot down anything less than 500 feet (away),” Vance said.  “Our gunner got loose one day and (starting firing).”

Vance said American pilots often flew close to the 500-foot zone, and he noticed something amiss in the skies.

“I yelled at the top of my voice for him to stop,” Vance said. “But the guy was trigger-happy and he was going to shoot down some plane.”

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