North Carolina World War II veteran reflects on a life of service
By JASMINE GALLUP | The Sanford (N.C.) Herald | Published: October 6, 2019
SANFORD, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — As one of the few remaining World War II veterans in Lee County, North Carolina native Ernest Earl Ballinger has told and retold his experience.
But ever since arriving back home after three years of fighting, Ballinger, 95, has been trying to forget, he said from his Sanford home Wednesday.
“We didn’t need war. It was too hard on the troops and the people,” he said in a halting voice.
“Because when you see little kids eating out of your garbage cans — it’s not good.”
Ballinger doesn’t regret his service to country, but enlisting in the military wasn’t something he envisioned as a young man, he said.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7 1941, Ballinger said he knew the U.S. was going to war. In 1942, at age 18, he enlisted before he could be drafted.
“Our country had been attacked and I thought it was my responsibility and my duty to protect it,” he said. “Funny thing: Back then, I wanted to get away from Guilford, and then when I got away, I wanted to get back.”
As a radio operator in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Ballinger’s job was to communicate with troops on the ground as his plane flew into and out of active war zones.
Often, the plane had to maintain radio silence, Ballinger said. On the way to the front line, the aircraft would haul gasoline or other supplies. On the way out, it was filled with wounded soldiers.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Ballinger flew into France on a C-47 as part of a Pathfinder group. He was aboard an aircraft that dropped some of the first paratroopers onto French soil and he also participated in drops in the Netherlands and across the Rhine River. In addition to the Pathfinders, Ballinger served with the 439th Troop Carrier Group.
“I learned more the first six months I was in service than I did in school,” Ballinger said. “Everything about life — I was around a lot of people at home, but to get around people from all parts of the country, they’re a little different.”
In 1945, Ballinger was discharged and returned to his hometown of Greensboro. He did his best to move on with his life, he said.
With many U.S. businesses in desperate need of employees after the war, it wasn’t hard to get his old job back at a pipe construction company, where he eventually was promoted to supervisor.
Ballinger moved to Sanford in 1960 for work at a manufacturing plant. When the plant shut down years later, he retired and started volunteering at his church.
Ballinger was eager to return to public service, he said. With his father in law enforcement, and several of his relatives volunteering as firefighters, it was something he grew up with. Ballinger worked as a volunteer firefighter for years in Goldsboro.
Today, Ballinger is homebound, and spends most of his time watching TV or reading the Bible. He said he finds comfort in the verses since his wife of more than 70 years, Estelle, died May 11, 2017. The couple had three children: Carolyn A., Virginia Rose and Robert Kenneth.
“The Lord says it — when you are married, there’s two of you, but there’s only one of you. I think that’s the way we were,” he said.
“I know one thing, when you’ve been with them for over 70 years, you sure miss them. Always.”
Ballinger and fellow Sanford WWII veteran Claiborne W. Wilson, 101, will be awarded the French Legion of Honor by France’s ambassador in Atlanta, Vincent Hommeril, during a ceremony Friday. The ceremony will be held at the Veterans of Foreign War Post 5631 in Sanford.