Col. Don “Doc” Ballard has been in a uniform since he was 6 years old.

Col. Don “Doc” Ballard has been in a uniform since he was 6 years old.

“My first uniform was a (Cub) Scout uniform,” said Ballard, the lone living Medal of Honor winner in the state of Missouri. “I served in the Army, I was a police officer, a fireman and now I wear the uniform of a funeral director – and I take great pride in everything I have done. I’ve been a public servant all my life and believe it is important to be service oriented.”

In 2008, Ballard purchased the Swan Lake Memorial Park Cemetery in Grain Valley, which at one time was the final resting place for veterans of the armed service branches.

Today, it still holds a special place for veterans, but is also open to the general public.

“It’s important to have that special place for our veterans,” said Ballard, who won the Medal of Honor while service as a medic in Vietnam in 1968, “but we have opened 20 some acres for the general public. The first time I visited this place, I fell in love with it. Now, we have expanded the definition of ‘vets’ to include anyone who served the public such as firemen, police officers, doctors, the clergy – they are all very special.”

One project that is extra special for Ballard is the formation of a USO site in the metro area.

“We have one USO in the state,” he said, “and that’s in St. Louis. Our boys come home and they don’t have a place to go where they can feel comfortable, relax, get some education, maybe find someone to listen to their story or help them find a job.

“My mom and dad met at the Kansas City USO that was located at 1915 Main Street in downtown Kansas City. We now have a site that is, ironically, located at 1519 Main Street. We’re working hard to make it a special place for the young people who have served their country.”

 Ballard is part of AMVETS Post 181, which is sponsoring a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament at 2 p.m., July 15, at the Elks Lodge in Blue Springs (100 N.E. Brizendine Road). Tickets are $50 in advance and $55 at the door.

For information on the tournament, call Doc Golden, 816-225-6867.

The AMVETS Post 181 office will be located on the first floor of the Main Street building and a restaurant that will feature historic armed forces related memorabilia, will be located on the second floor.

“I’m really excited about this project,” said Ballard, who had just sworn in 12 Air Force recruits in a ceremony at Swan Lake Memorial Park, “because (USOs) basically ceased to exist during Vietnam.

“First and foremost, we want to educate the public about the importance of having a USO. When I got the idea to open a USO in downtown Kansas City, I talked to vets to get their ideas and input. Then, I asked if they supported the idea. And they did – that was all I needed to start the project.”

The USO will become reality though donations and fundraisers and Ballard hopes it will open its doors sometime late in 2012.

“We have to qualify to open a USO, and I don’t believe we will have any problems there,” he said. “Our AMVETS Post 181 will help raise money and awareness and we are seeking volunteers and community support once we open our doors.”

The downtown Kansas City site must conform to national USO standards. There will be two separate entrances for the AMVETS Post 181 offices and one for the restaurant.

“We will have relics and museum-quality military memorabilia in the restaurant from every era with the exception of World War I – we’re not going to compete with the World War I Museum, which will be located right down the street at the Liberty Memorial. In fact, we are going to encourage all our guests to visit the World War I Museum, because it is one of the best museums in the country.”

While Ballard is actively seeking funds and support from the metro area, he has a heavy hitter in his corner. Actor and activist Gary Sinise – Lt. Dan from the Academy Award-winning movie “Forrest Gump” who also played Harry Truman in “Truman” – has given his blessing to the project.

“Gary Sinise is the new face of the USO,” said Ballard, who has several photos of himself and Sinise in his office. “He’s the modern-era Bob Hope. I’ve been with him three times this year and he wants to know about the project every time we get together.”

A local architect is working on the design for both the AMVETS Post 181 site and the USO, and kitchen/restaurant items have been donated.

“Right now, the left foot is waiting for the right foot to follow,” Ballard said. “But this is going to happen. We’re going to have a USO to offer education, to help veterans find a job, to talk with other vets who can help with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and to give them a place where they can always find a friend and someone they can talk to.”