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Local veterans visiting Washington, D.C., for 'Journey of Heroes'

Ballard brothers from Tualatin among Oregon veterans on trip to see memorials

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Local veterans pose at Portland International Airport prior to their trip to Washington, D.C.This story has been updated from its original version.

Two World War II veterans from Tualatin are among a small group of Oregon military veterans visiting Washington, D.C., this week on the fifth annual Journey of Heroes set up by nonprofit groups.

Elmer Ballard, 91, and Melvin Ballard, 92, departed from Portland International Airport on Monday morning as part of a group of 13 veterans. The trip was arranged by the Vital Life Foundation and Wish of a Lifetime to give veterans the opportunity to see the war memorials and museums along the National Mall.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - World War II veteran Elmer Ballard waves to friends and family as he heads for a plane to Washington, D.C.Elmer Ballard, who served as a radio operator in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, said neither he nor his brother Melvin had ever been to Washington, D.C., before, and he was looking forward to going.

The trip is “an experience for both of us,” the younger Ballard added.

Melvin Ballard, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he asked to join his brother for the four-day trip to Washington, D.C.

He served on the U.S.S. Eaton for two years in the Pacific theater. Among other operations, the destroyer took part in the battles for Saipan, Tinian and the Philippines.

Many of the veterans on the trip are now wheelchair-bound.

“All of the gentlemen that are going are either residents of skilled nursing facilities or assisted living facilities,” said Vicki Nordby, an administrator at Marquis Companies, which operates a senior living community in Tualatin.

Marquis and its sister company, Consonus Healthcare Services, founded the Vital Life Foundation in 2008.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Melvin Ballard gets ready to fly off to Washington, D.C., as part of the 'Journey of Heroes' for military veterans.Nordby accompanied veterans on the Journey of Heroes two years ago. She said it is an “amazing trip” and an emotional experience for the veterans, their companions and caregivers.

“They'll be going to all the memorials. They'll go into the (Smithsonian) Air & Space Museum,” she said. “They see the planes that they flew or rode or were involved in the wars that they were involved in. Taking them to the memorials is pretty amazing. You know, memories of lost friends and the experiences they have, you just see such emotion on their faces. … Those that were accompanying them were in tears, every one of them.”

On the trips, Nordby said, veterans are “treated like rock stars” wherever they go.

“The thanks and respect they get is just so deserving,” she said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of veterans who left from Portland International Airport on the Journey of Heroes trip. The group included 13 veterans. The age of Melvin Ballard was also misstated. He is 92. The story has been corrected.


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