Sandy Bradford Ball
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Parents, Thomas & Carrie Ball
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9/30/1942 – 11/6/1945
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Sandy Ball was born in Bluefield, West Virginia in 1922, the youngest of Thomas and Carrie Ball’s five children. He grew up at 2011 Bluefield Avenue; from its location on a little hill, the house provided a view of the railroad where Thomas made a living as an engineer. The Ball family was quite well known in the town of Bluefield – newspapers of the 1930s reported on their doings in the local interest section, and Sandy’s fourteenth birthday was covered with great relish.
Sandy attended a local high school and imagined joining the railroad with his father once he reached adulthood. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor changed his plans. Sandy volunteered for the Marine Corps shortly after his twentieth birthday, trained at Parris Island, and was assigned to Company C, First Separate Battalion, which was forming in North Carolina in January, 1942.
Private Ball was chosen as a machine gunner for his company; he alternately carried heavy boxes of .30 caliber ammunition for the Browning M1919, the weapon’s heavy tripod, and the gun itself – every member of the five man squad was expected to know the job of each of their comrades. He got to know some of the riflemen in his company as well, as his crew deployed to support rifle platoons in endless training exercises at New River, North Carolina and Camp Pendleton California. Their training ranged from field problems to conditioning hikes, swimming tests to boat landings.
By December, 1943, the men of Company C were as well-trained as they would ever be. They were allowed a final liberty over the holidays – in early 1944, they would bid goodbye to the United States; some would never return.
Private First Class Ball first saw combat on Namur in the Kwajalein atoll. His regiment invaded the tiny island on February 1, 1944, and secured it within 36 hours; Sandy’s job as an ammunition carrier kept him on or near the front line for the duration of the battle. He performed well enough to be advanced to the MOS of gunner in the spring of 1944; his weapons platoon, like the others in his regiment, doubled its number of machine guns when the dedicated weapons companies of the 4th Marine Division’s regiments were disbanded. Ball went on to fight through the battles of Saipan and Tinian in the summer of 1944, and was advanced in rank to Corporal while wintering at Camp Maui.
Sandy’s next battle – the invasion of Iwo Jima – would be different. Not only was the landscape and enemy tactics unlike any his division had encountered before, but Sandy himself had a different set of responsibilities – he was in command of a squad of machine gunners. Some were veterans like him, others were going into combat for the first time, and he was responsible for the well-being of each one.
As the battle for Iwo lasted for days, then for weeks, Sandy saw his squad whittled away. Although he was wounded early in March, 1945, Corporal Ball escaped the two disastrous days that devastated Charlie Company’s machine gun platoon, and returned to action on March 10. By the time the battalion’s role in the fighting ended on March 16, he was one of only a few non-commissioned officers still present for duty – and his company had been so weakened by casualties that it temporarily ceased to exist.
By the summer of 1945, Sandy Ball had served in four pitched battles, been wounded, and had more narrow escapes than he could count. He was temporarily transferred to Fleet Marine Force headquarters in July, but returned to Charlie Company just before the war ended. He returned to the United States with his comrades, carrying what his friend “Iron Mike” Mervosh called the five best medals a combat Marine could have – two arms, two legs, and a head.
After his honorable discharge in November, 1945, Ball returned to his hometown of Bluefield, where he married Liz Heaton and had five children of his own. He followed his father into the railroad business, working alongside the elder Ball as a fireman. Sandy was eventually promoted to engineer, and worked on the railroads for the rest of his career. Although he granted an interview to a local newspaper on the twentieth anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, Ball was reticent to speak of his wartime experiences. He died in 1989, and is buried in Grandview Memorial Gardens, Bluefield.
Special thanks to Sandy’s son, Jack Ball, for providing information and photographs of Sandy’s service. To view the entire collection of Sandy’s pictures, please visit the Gallery page.