“This plaque is dedicated to the memory of the brave and gallant men from Ballard High School who gave their lives in Vietnam,” reads Ballard High’s Vietnam Memorial Plaque.
The plaque contains 19 names (the 19th only recently added) that are the subject of a new book called “The Ballard Nineteen” written by Vietnam veteran and Duvall Fire Commissioner Jerry Edward Smith.
Smith, who is entering his 20th year as a fire commissioner in Duvall, graduated from Ballard High School in 1966. A few years ago he set out to write a book about the year he spent in Vietnam, based on a diary he kept and on the letters he wrote home during the time he was away.
But while he was working on that first book, Smith received a kind of divine premonition that got a question stuck in his head: “Well it’s fine that you’re doing this, but what about the guys that didn’t make it back? Why don’t you honor them?”
So that’s exactly what Smith did.
It took him three and a half years to complete “The Ballard Nineteen.” He did online research through universities and searched through yearbooks and numerous newspapers, including the Ballard High School paper, the Ballard Talisman.
Smith also interviewed the friends and families of many of the late soldiers.
“They would do their own research and funnel it to me,” Smith said. “Getting to know them, I got a blessing out of it with each of the family members that I met.”
As he spoke with the families, Smith discovered that there was an additional Ballard graduate who had fought and been killed in Vietnam but whose name was not on the Ballard Vietnam Memorial Plaque. At that time, the plaque contained only 18 names.
After that, the Ballard Eighteen became the Ballard Nineteen.
“I think it was meant to be,” Smith said of his book project. Without it, that 19th name may never have been added to the plaque.
“When we discovered that there were 19, it was sad, obviously. I don’t want to find a 20th,” Smith said. “But to be able to garner recognition for the 19th, it turned into a very happy event because the family was so excited and so honored to have his name put on the plaque.”
“The Ballard Nineteen” contains a chapter about each lost soldier, organized by date of death. With biographical information, newspaper clippings, photos, and quotes and anecdotes from the families, Smith crafts a brief overview of the life and death of each man.
It’s the small details and the words of the family members themselves that make the book a painful but important piece of local history.
Bruce Randolph “Randy” Landis learned to read as a child by devouring comic books.
John Michael “Mike” Riordan became a skilled metalworker before he graduated from high school and restored old vehicles such as a 1953 Packard pickup truck and a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle.
Ciro John Andreassi reportedly dragged an injured comrade to safety just days before he himself was killed.
Johnny Allen Sigurdson was an Eagle Scout and a Young Life leader and attended graduate school at the Dallas Theological Seminary.
Smith was not able to get in touch with the families of all 19 men, although he did make attempts to reach out to them.
“Maybe it’s too painful, and I can understand that,” he said. However, Smith said he is open to revising the book if more information comes in about any of the 19.
“I am overwhelmed by all the feelings and memories shared by so many families, friends, and those who served with the “Nineteen.” This book could not have happened without that willingness to share,” Smith wrote in the book’s introduction.
Find “The Ballard Nineteen” online at Amazon.com.