NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - He's a Medal of Honor recipient and one of the bravest of the brave. On Wednesday, Don "Doc" Ballard got a chance to speak with young heroes in the making as he visited with fifth-graders at Deer Park Elementary in New Port Richey.
Holding their handmade flags with pride, students lined the sidewalks, excited to welcome Ballard and shake his hand. The fifth-graders at Deer Park had been learning about Medal of Honor recipients through their Medal of Honor Character Development Program, and they were eager for Ballard to share his story.
The veteran's actions during his time as a corpsman in the Navy were so heroic, even then-President Richard Nixon took notice.
"President Nixon gave this to me and he put it around my neck and said, 'Son, I'm proud of you. The country is thankful for your service,'" Ballard recalled.
In 1970, Ballard was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Vietnam War.
"When I hollered 'grenade' and jumped on it, they saw me jump on the grenade. I pulled it under my chest," said Ballard. "I rolled over and flung the grenade out of the bomb crater that we were in, and it went off in the air."
After his time in the Navy, Ballard wasn't done serving his country. He went on to serve in the Army and ended his career in the service after 35 years. However, his service to the community still continues.
"I enjoy getting out with the kids, and sharing my stories, and maybe encouraging them to be something better than they would've thought about doing before they met me," said Ballard.
Deer Park students who have taken part in the Medal of Honor Character Development Program were excited to have a chance to learn from their hero.
"I was thinking maybe when I grow up to go into one of the military branch too, so it actually meant a lot to me for him to come out to speak to us," said Alexander, a fifth-grade student at the school.
Ballard said it's his honor to be able to inspire the leaders of the future.