Veterans from Kotzebue have war stories archived online

An UH-1B[D] helicopter prepares for a resupply mission for Co B, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 4th Inf Div, during the operation conducted 20 miles southwest of Dak To, Vietnam. December 10-16, 1967. (U.S. Army Photo)

Alaska has the highest concentration of veterans nationwide.

From World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and both Gulf Wars, more than 70,000 veterans have served in the armed forces. Now, more of their stories can be heard online.

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The Communities of Memory Project was a statewide effort through the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Oral History program to record stories from Alaskans about what made their communities special.

The stories recorded in Kotzebue highlight the experiences of veterans — what it was like to be drafted, how it felt to be in the middle of a conflict zone and the struggles that come after returning home from war.

Chester Ballot is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

Ballot was born near Selawik. After graduating from Mt. Edgecumbe in 1962, he moved down to Los Angeles to study electronics at the Radio Corporation of America Institute.

On his 21st birthday, Ballot was notified that he had been drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Ballot reflected on his time in Vietnam in front of an audience at the NANA museum in Kotzebue in 1996.

“I was stationed in the Mekong Delta, the southwestern portion of Vietnam, and into the 52nd Signal Battalion,” Ballot said.

Ballot’s work was focused on communication antennas, which were used to send signals to five outlying villages. After an explosion would hit his area, Ballot was tasked with going to check on signals communication area to see that the antennas were still functioning.

“I was scared when I was over in Vietnam, mainly because they were shelling us,” Ballot confessed. “They were attacking us with mortar shells and I was scared to the point that I drank a lot.”

One night a mortar landed about 15 feet away from him. It blew up a jeep, but Ballot was unaware that anything had happened. He had passed out.

That’s when Ballot said, ‘enough is enough.’

“I started working night shift because I could hear when the in-comings [were] happening,” Ballot said. “They never attacked during the daytimes and I could sleep during the daytimes.”

And, Ballot said, he quit drinking.

Ballot met an Iñupiat from Nome at the camp he was at. He said every time they saw each other at the mess hall, they talked of the food back home like dried fish or dried paniqtaq and seal oil.

“You ask any veteran how long they [were] over there, they’ll probably give you down to the hour of what time they left and they were glad to come home,” Ballot said.

“I’m really glad to be home again. That’s my war story,” Ballot concluded.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

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