Lester Ball in World War II

Lester Ball

Staff Sergeant
Serial Number: 35 795 590

Company A
30th Infantry Regiment
3rd Infantry Division
VI Corps
The United States Fifth Army (North Africa / Italy)
The United States Seventh Army (France / Germany) 


Preface.  From the mines to the military.

Lester Ball was born on July 7, 1922, the seventh of eleven children, somewhere in McCreary County, Kentucky.  Census records conflict on whether he was born in Whitley City or nearby Stearns.  His first memories were of a small clapboard house with an outhouse and no running water. Unusually shy, he hoped to live an ordinary rural life.  But ordinary it was not.

He was the seventh son of a seventh son … born on the seventh day of the seventh month.  He was also the son of a Baptist minister.  As a result of these circumstances, he was thought to be a child prodigy with unique healing powers.  He was frequently taken to sick people throughout southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee, where he laid hands on them in hopes of curing the uncurable.  Lester’s extraordinary gentle nature and empathetic manner were very comforting to those suffering and in despair.

Lester's family moved several times, eventually settling somewhere between Mountain Ash, Kentucky and Newcomb, Tennessee, where his father found work at the Jellico Coal Mine.  As a teenager, Lester was put to work in the mine to help support the family.  Thirty years earlier, a seam of coal had been discovered in the region.  It was of the highest grade of coal, free of ash and sulphur.  An entire industry had sprung up in the valley and employment at the mines was readily available during those difficult times.       

Lester was twenty years old when fate intervened and he was called out of the mines and notified that he had been drafted to fight for his country. He would become one of the Greatest Generation.

Lester Ball served in the European Theatre for two years and twenty days in Company A, 30th Infantry Regiment, in the legendary 3rd Infantry Division... The Rock of the Marne. He was involved in heavy, front-line combat for  nearly two continuous years. During that time, he sustained lief-threatening injuries that would serve as daily reminders of those events for the rest of his life. And he would take a number of heroic actions that would earn him the Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Distinguished (Presidential) Unit Citations, the French Croix de Guerre, and Purple Heart for his gallantry. 

He never spoke much about his participation in World War II.  Edith, his wife, once told their daughter, Tam, that Lester experienced nightmares and flashbacks for decades afterwards.  Although he was highly decorated, he left his experiences and all connections to his military life behind, both literally and figuratively.  The only tangible evidence, other than his physical scars, were stored in a cardboard box in the attic of his house.  In that box, along with his medals and papers, were two books, History Of The Third Infantry Division In World War II (Divisional Series)History of 30th Infantry Regiment World War II.  These are very detailed accounts of the actions of the division and regiment throughout the war.  Although they provide excellent event and geographical information, they lack the perspective that only personal reflection can give.      

In the last few years of his life, however, Lester opened up about several episodes of his wartime experiences.  He recalled a number fascinating anecdotes that revealed how important his contributions were to the allied victory. Several of them have been articulated here, in written form, so that future generations can better comprehend the sacrifices that he, as well as his fellow soldiers, made during World War II.

Converging Paths. 

In 1942, the 30th Infantry regiment was based out of Fort Lewis, Washington and the Presidio in San Francisco, California.  Troops were eventually assigned to Fort Ord for amphibious training, which continued with the Marines at La Jolla, California, near San Diego.  

The 30th Infantry Regiment was shipped by rail to Camp Pickett, Virginia, where they made final preparations for deployment.  The unit set sail for North Africa from Newport News, Virginia on October 23, 1942 under blackout conditions and embarked in heavily-laden troop carriers.  It was during a rainstorm in the pitch-black, pre-dawn hours of November 8, 1942 that the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division made a somewhat chaotic amphibious assault on the French North African beaches at Fedala, Morocco.  Jumping from Higgin’s landing craft, with face blacked, in the middle of the night, was how the troops of the 30th infantry began their direct involvement in World War II.  It was an inauspicious start.  Before the troops were able to leave the beach, four of the landing craft had been torpedoed by German U-boats and sunk.  There was a high degree of disarray during the assault … but there would be no turning back now.

Company A consisted of 112 men.  The 30th Infantry Regiment consisted of 3,000 men.  The 3rd Infantry Division consisted of roughly 10,000 men.  During the war, these numbers would vary considerably as a result of massive casualties.

 Fedala Beach at 11:00am on November 8, 1942

Operation Torch had the strategic aim of cutting North Africa out from under the Axis' European edifice, opening the Mediterranean to Allied shipping … the first step of which was seizing control of Casablanca (Task Force Brushwood).

Company A immediately set a course for the Miramar Hotel intent on capturing the members of the German Armistice Commission in Fedala, known to have been staying at the hotel. The Commission had escaped in the confusion, so the platoon gathered what papers were left. A C.I.C. detachment completed the search of three floors of the hotel, finding documents of military value, equipment, and money.  While Company A was inside the hotel, U.S. naval shells landed on it, two of which made direct hits on the lobby.  The troops took cover under tables in the hotel casino.

The next two days were spent consolidating gains in Fedala before moving on to Casablanca.  Despite the fact that the French defenses melted quickly and Casablanca was captured by the 3rd Division on November 11, 1942, (George Patton’s birthday) the entire offensive was sloppy and disorganized.  Patton moved into the Miramar Hotel and used it as his command headquarters. 

North African Campaign.  Preparations. 

On March 18, 1943, Lester Ball was officially inducted into the military, and he entered active duty one week later, at Fort Thomas, Newport, Kentucky on March 25, 1943.  He would spend the next several weeks at a recruit training camp, such as Fort Benning, Fort Dix, or Camp Atterbury.  In addition to physical conditioning, he was also given instruction in self defense, technical and survival skills (i.e. assembly/disassembly of a rifle, use of compass, and gas mask operation). 

- - -

After the close of the Casablanca operation until April 28, 1943, the 30th Infantry was scattered throughout French Morocco and western Algeria, serving as border, school, and line-of-communication guard troops. During those months, soldiers got their first dose of General George S. Patton, Jr.  Under his command, they began to develop the skills and discipline they would need for the heavy fighting that was sure to come.   

Company A began an intensive period of amphibious assault training in preparation for a major assault on Sicily.  This remedial work was undertaken largely to preclude a re-enactment of the near-calamity at Fedala.  The program was under the supervision of a tough, new commander, Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott.  This was well articulated in ’History of the U.S. 30th Infantry Regiment’:        

Under Truscott, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division would receive a new doctrine which to conduct their operations, called the "Truscott Trot" (marching at speeds of five miles per hour with full pack and combat gear). Only the best and finest soldiers would be chosen for Truscott's U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. Should any man not meet up to Truscott's doctrine he would be replaced with a better man from another division.

By the end of the North African campaign the U.S. 30th Infantry Regiment would be part of the new VI Corps. with the 2nd Armored Division and would have lost some of its best trained soldiers to reinforce some of the other units in theatre that we suffering due to losses in experienced soldiers. Only Able Company (Lester), and Item Co., of the 3rd Battalion would be left as they had started the war. 

Shortly after the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division arrived in Bizerte, Tunisia, the 30th Infantry Regiment began retraining the U.S. 7th and 15th Infantry Regiments in the art of amphibious tactics. The 30th Infantry Regiment would have less than four months to train the other regiments and battalions of the division before their invasion into Sicily.

Assault on Sicily.  

The Invasion of Sicily - Blue Beach, Gela

On July 10, 1943, at 0200, the 30th Infantry Regiment launched their second amphibious assault of the war on Sicily.  Departing from Lake Bizerte, Tunisia, by dawn Company A landed on Sicily at “blue” beach, between Licata and Gela.  U.S. intelligence had determined that enemy strength on Sicily totaled five divisions and that the brunt of German strength (34,000 troops) was concentrated near the capital city of Palermo on the northern coast.  Over the next twelve days, led by General Patton, the 3rd Division “carved itself a piece of Sicilian real estate” covering 120 miles over the roughest terrain they would ever encounter in the Mediterranean Theatre.  On July 22, the city of Palermo fell.

Almost immediately, the 30th Infantry set out toward Messina.  At 0500 on August 2, Company A was sent as an advance team to attack to the east over steep cliffs and extremely rugged terrain.  Its mission was to seize the bridge west of Caronia, to capture the town itself, and to cut the road east of the town.  The 41st FA Battalion supported the attack.  The objective was achieved by 0900 and the convoy continued up the coastal road to Messina.  Casualties mounted along the northern coast as Patton’s obsession with reaching Messina ahead of British General Montgomery was only matched by the voracity of a German army with their backs increasingly pressed against the wall.  On August 17, the island of Sicily fell.  

- - -

Stateside, Lester was completing infantry training, including field artillery procedures and amphibious assault instruction.  As part of these final preparations, he received smallpox, typhoid, and tetanus immunizations prior to departure overseas.  

Lester Joins The Fight.

Naples, Salerno and Mount Rotundo.
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.

After the fall of Sicily in August, the 30th Infantry Regiment was sent back to Marsala (on the west coast of Sicily).  Their primary assignment was to guard the airport, but in reality the purpose was to wait until complete Italian invasion plans were developed at headquarters.  One of the traveling USO shows starring Bob Hope and Frances Langford performed at the Trapani Bowl for the 3rd Division.  General George S. Patton, Jr. also addressed the army during the event, “praising every unit and lauding the Division as a whole, as the finest infantry division any commander could desire.”  

Bob Hope at the Trapani Bowl, western Sicily 1943.

For a precious few days, the troops enjoyed swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, playing cards, watching movies and relaxing.  It was here, that they heard that Lt. General Mark Clark’s Fifth Army had landed south of Salerno and was engaged in a life and death struggle against massive German forces to maintain the beachhead.  Within hours, orders came for the 30th Infantry Regiment to prepare to ship out.

By midnight on September 16, Company A was on the move again, launching an amphibious assault from Palermo to the beaches of Salerno, landing just south of the Sele River.  General Truscott ordered the 15th and 30th Infantry Regiment to advance on Acerno at once. This was made nearly impossible when the Germans blew the bridge just outside of town and set up machine gun emplacements on the opposite side. Fellow 3rd ID soldiers, Lattie Tifton and Audie Murphy volunteered to ambush two hidden positions, which they did successfully, thus clearing the way for reconstruction of the bridge, and enabling the capture of Acerno on September 22.    

The bridge at Acerno

On the other side of the world, on October 13, Lester Ball boarded a troop carrier somewhere along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and began his fateful journey to the European continent; carrying a 100 pound duffel bag, packed with bedroll, rifle, and steel helmet. For security purposes, most troopship boardings took place at night.  Blindly following the man in front of him, Lester climbed the gangway and continued down a maze of hatches to his assigned area ... a room full of pipes from which hammocks were strung, two feet wide and six feet long.  They were stacked sometimes five high, vertically two feet above one another.  The aisles were a mass of bags and gear.  The room was beneath the waterline of the ship, therefore there were no portholes or ventilation.  Onboard were several thousand men.

Accommodations aboard a typical troopship.

Lester immediately set sail for Europe; he would not know his ultimate destination until he arrived.

He recalled that the voyage was total misery.  A hurricane (Hurricane Nine) swept due north from Hispaniola and chased them halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone onboard the ship was severely seasick and bruised from the turbulence.  

There is no official record of a troopship leaving the continental United States on October 13, nor is there a record confirming his arrival.  We do know, however, that Lester stepped ashore at the European Theatre somewhere near Naples, Italy on November 4, 1943.

Lester was expedited to the front, as extensive fighting in the hills to the north was intensifying.  He joined Company A, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division near Rocca Pippirozzi (north of the town of Mignano) in the midst of its first major continental offensive (Operation Avalanche) in the Apennine Mountains.

Allied forces had made progress, pushing north through Formicola and the town of Cannavinelle (with Company A capturing Hill 689).  Then, German defenses stiffened in the mountains and the conflict descended into a stand-off.  At 0845 on November 8, the 30th Infantry Regiment (2nd and 3rd Battalions) launched a coordinated attack with the 15th IR along the southern slope of Mount Rotundo.  Lester's company was instructed to hold its ground along Cannavinelle Ridge.  For the next ten days, in freezing snow and sleet, the 1st Battalion was subjected to withering artillery fire from German positions atop Rotundo and Lungo.  The most bitter fighting erupted on the night of November 7, when the Germans mounted a major counterattack upon Cannavinelle Hill ... earning it the name "Counterattack Corner."  Again, on the 8th, three counterattacks were attempted, all coming from San Pietro-Venafro Road.  The final attack of the day was only subdued when a mule train bringing badly needed ammunition arrived at the front with only minutes to spare.  

More German counterattacks came on November 9th and 10th; many of them being repulsed in bloody hand-to-hand fighting.  The 30th IR was now fighting with both flanks and its rear exposed.  In a last-ditch effort, on November 11th, the enemy launched one massive artillery attack in every direction, with mortar, tank cannon, and Nebelwerfer (Smoke Mortar) fire, inundating both Mount Rotundo and Mount Cannavinelle.  The 3rd ID held fast.          

The 30th IR succeeded in taking Mount Rotundo, as well as holding the Cannavinelle Hills ... but the battle was not yet over.  For six straight days, their positions were counter-attacked as the fighting continued and both sides refused to surrender.  Finally, on November 17th, the exhausted troops of the 3rd Infantry Division were relieved by the 36th Infantry Division   They had just set a wartime record for more than 60 straight days of frontline combat. They were withdrawn to the Naples 3rd Division Rest Center for recuperation.  

This must have been a time for serious reflection, as Private Lester Ball had now experienced the ravages of war first-hand ... and knew that there would be much more of it in the near future. 

On December 31, one of the coldest days in Italy's history, the 30th IR left Pietravairano by truck for Mad di Quarto, to initiate preparation for another assault (under the command of Lt. Colonel McGarr).  Intensive physical conditioning and more amphibious training took place at Pozzouli and Baia, placing heavy emphasis of pillbox reduction, the use of new-model bazookas, and rifle grenades.

While Lester was enduring this concentrated ground-training, the military brain-trust was finalizing plans for a high-risk surprise attack.

Anzio Beach. 
Bronze Arrowhead (for amphibious landing).
Purple Heart.

Churchill and FDR at Marrakesh

In December, while recovering from pneumonia in Marrakesh, Winston Churchill devised a plan to land two divisions at Anzio and launch an end-run attack, behind the German forces, and take Rome.  3rd Infantry Division General Truscott strongly opposed it, saying that it would be a “suicide” mission and that there would be no survivors.  General Clark concurred with this assessment and canceled the operation.  Winston Churchill appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the plan was reinstated under the name of Operation Shingle

A few days prior to the attack, the general assigned to the campaign, John P. Lucas wrote in his diary, "They will end up putting me ashore with inadequate forces and get me in a serious jam... Then, who will get the blame?  The operation has a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the same amateur was still on the coach's bench.”

For three days, from January 16 - 18, Lester and Company A carried out full-scale rehearsals for the invasion of Anzio, code-named "Webfoot", along the beaches south of Salerno.  On January 19, they broke camp and began packing supplies onto LSTs, LCTs, and LCIs at Pozzuoli. 

At 0200 on January 22, 1944, outfitted with new uniforms, weapons, and under the command of General John P. Lucas of VI Corp, the 30th Infantry Regiment departed Naples and landed south of Anzio on Nettuno Beach, near San Rocco church.  Alongside them were three Ranger battalions as well as the British 1st Special Service Force.  The Germans were caught completely off guard and Allied invasion forces quickly moved beyond Nettuno and into the surrounding countryside. 

Lester, as part of Company A, led the insertion toward Le Ferriere, located eight miles inland between the Padiglione Woods and Pontine Marshes.  The first resistance during the initial invasion was against Lester’s company as they approached La Ferriere.  Five Nazi tanks had formed a roadblock on several bridges crossing the Mussolini Canal and progress stopped.  Word was also spreading that increasing numbers of enemy forces were seen arriving in the Conca area from the mountainous areas north and east of the beachhead. 

The plan for a quick and deep insertion of troops had deteriorated into a stand-off and threatened to expose the minimal number of soldiers who had landed to a potentially disastrous situation.

Fortunately, with overhead artillery support from the naval destroyer Mayo, however, Company A was able to push the 15th Panzer Grenadiers back across the Mussolini Canal and onto the plains fronting the Alban foothills.             

3rd Infantry Division arrives at Nettuno

Military map of the landing at Anzio / Nettuno Beach
January 22, 1944

At this point, General Lucas made what many historians believe was a huge strategic mistake.  He inexplicably delayed further troop movement for two days in order to consolidate the beachhead.  This bought time for the vastly-outnumbered German parachute regiments near Compomorto to call Field Marshall Albert Kesselring for help.  Within hours, eight Panzer Divisions (including the legendary Hermann Göring Division) had been positioned like a crescent along the Alban Hills surrounding Cisterna.  German strength had been increased to 40,400 troops.

Progress of the Anzio invasion, January 24 - 28, 1944.

On January 24, in deteriorating weather conditions (high winds and periodic sleet), Lester and his company were ordered to swing to their left and follow the Conca-Compomorto Road two miles to Compomorto and then make a sweeping motion to the right, toward the northeast and Cisterna.  

House to house fighting near Compomorto

By that afternoon, the Allies had captured Compomorto.  Company A (with Lester) was then sent on a preliminary reconnaissance up the Compomorto-Cisterna Road.  Progress was halted again by German guerilla-snipers hiding in the sparsely distributed farm houses.  Many of these houses and fence rows were also booby-trapped with mines.  On the horizon, company scouts could see German half-tracks and Panzer tanks repositioning themselves on side roads and behind barns.  This exposed area became known as “No Man’s Land”.

“No Man’s Land” located between the Mussolini Canal and Cisterna

Daybreak on January 25.  General Truscott pulled forward additional troops for a more aggressive reconnaissance toward Cisterna.  Company A, once again, spearheaded the action, crossing the West Branch Creek and progressing on a house-by-house basis.  However, during the night, German General Alfred Schlemm of the Wehrmacht had fortified his assets, bringing in anti-tank cannons and large-caliber machine gun emplacements. 

 Fighting along Compomorto-Cisterna Road

For two miles, Lester and Company A made tenuous steps forward, unaware of the scale of forces lying in wait.  Suddenly, at the intersection of Cisterna and Crocetta Roads, near Ponte Rotto, they were caught in a counterattack of German paratrooper sniper and roving tank fire in a Nazi effort to re-take Bridge 11.  A heated skirmish ensued, with troops diving into ditches for cover and returning fire in every direction.  Company A had become fully-engaged with two companies of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division. 

It was here, at this intersection, during this engagement, that Lester Ball was shot in the face.  A bullet passed through both cheeks, bisecting and fracturing his jaw, tearing through his tongue, destroying his teeth, and permanently damaging his hearing.

Lester’s entire platoon was killed in the ambush.  As the sole survivor of the attack, he lay prone beside the road and pretended he was dead ... hoping not to draw the attention of Nazi storm-troopers scattering around him. 

Incredibly intense and continuous fighting erupted for miles along the front.  Reserve troops from the 30th Infantry and 7th Infantry Regiments were rapidly pulled forward from Le Ferriere.  To the south, the 1st and 3rd Ranger battalions had also been ambushed, with no survivors.  The 83rd Mortar Battalion, and 509th Infantry Parachute Battalion were brought forward into immediate action.  Meanwhile, additional German divisions had arrived, bringing their forces to 71,500. 

Thus, Lester was involved in the flashpoint of one of the most horrible and bloody skirmishes of one of the most intense actions of World War II … the Battle of Anzio. Twenty-five percent of Lester’s 30th Infantry Regiment were killed in these initial stages of battle. 

Lester eventually made it back to Allied lines where he was given triage medical care and evacuated by a litter squad with the 52nd Medical Battalion to the 33rd Field Hospital southeast of Nettuno. 

The 400 bed 93rd Evacuation Hospital (a seized building in Anzio) and 95th Evacuation Hospital (under canvas between Anzio and Nettuno) became operational on the evening of January 24th.  The 95th also had a dental clinic.  The 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group (with a prosthetic dental team) did not arrive with the 56th Evacuation Hospital until February 22, so it is unlikely that Lester benefited from their services.

 LCI transferring Anzio wounded to hospital ship

Serious casualties from the earliest days of the battle were transferred to one of several British hospital ships (HMHS St. David, HMHS St. Andrew, HMHS Dinard or HMHS Leinster) using LCIs. The weather was horrible for five days after the invasion and the transfer of wounded from ship to ship was extremely hazardous. The ships were also easy targets for Luftwaffe bombers … as exemplified by the destruction of the HMHS St. David, which was sunk in Anzio Harbor on January 24.

Lester was eventually transferred to 300th General Hospital in Naples, Italy where he received full medical care.  Opened in November 1943 (after transferring from Vanderbilt University Hospital, Nashville, Tennessee) the 300th was a 2,000 bed facility.  It was at this location, on February 18, 1944, that Lester Ball was presented with an Award Of The Purple Heart.

HEADQUARTERS 300th General Hospital A.P.O. #378 - U.S. Army.
  GENERAL ORDERS NUMBER 6, 18 February 1944
  LESTER (NMI) BALL, 35795590, Private, Co. A, 30th Infantry, for wounds
  received in action 25 January 1944 near Nettuno, Italy. 

  Home address: Newcomb, Tennessee.  Medal No. 168951.

Actress Marlene Dietrich visiting the 300th General Hospital

It was while Lester was convalescing at 300th General Hospital that General George S. Patton, Jr. visited the facility.  According to Lester, General Patton (old ‘Blood and Guts’ as he described him) arrived and spoke to several individual patients before addressing everyone in the room.  He stated that there had been a high level of attrition at the front and was asking for volunteers from among those hospitalized and recuperating.  Lester raised his hand and Patton moved to the foot of his bed and looked at him.  He asked, “What is your name, soldier?”  Lester could not speak with his jaw shattered and face tightly wrapped.  A physician spoke for him and described his injuries.  Patton told the doctor to patch Lester up and prepare him for battle and also dictated that a note be inserted into his medical file that he should be given the finest medical care once the conflict concluded.

Lester returned to action less than one month after being shot in the face.

It was not until Lester visited the Veterans Administration Hospital in Gainesville, Florida to address chronic dental and hearing issues in 1989 that a hospital administrator finally found the forty-five year old note lingering in the back of Lester’s file and took it upon himself to make sure that he received the proper medical care. 

Exactly where and when Lester re-joined his unit is unclear, although Lester mentioned that he spent a total of six months in Italy, and fought his way into Rome on June 5, 1944.  Once in Rome, Lester and his company took garrison duties and patrolled the streets of the city, protecting historic monuments against possible vandalism from disgruntled Fascist groups.  For a brief moment in history, Lester Ball’s job was to safeguard the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, and the Roman Coliseum.

On June 20, Lester returned to Mad di Quarto, for additional intensive large-scale amphibious training. Emphasis was placed on five-mile conditioning marches and beach assault practice. The 30th IR was soon ready for its next great conquest, the French Riviera.   


The Battle of Anzio is considered one of the most important and brutal battles in the history of mankind. More than twelve thousand soldiers were killed in action, and sixty-seven thousand were wounded in the four-month-long conflict. In hindsight, most military historians acknowledge a multitude of strategic and tactical blunders that made the struggle horrendously arduous and required great fortitude and often, heroic action, on the part of the soldiers ... like those of Pfc. John C Squires, 2nd Leutenant Randolph Bracey, and Sgt. John W. Dutko, all of Lester's Company A, who gave their lives and earned high military honors at Anzio.

Back home, the Associated Press and United Press International published a series of articles lauding the 3rd Division, referencing its legendary reputation as the “Rock of the Marne”.  They were now calling it the “Rock of Anzio”, describing how the division took on five enemy divisions and saved the invasion.

The ultimate victory of the American military at Anzio … taken from the jaws of defeat … is considered one of the most pivotal points of World War II.  Most scholars note that this battle was the ’beginning of the end’ of the war.  Lester was there ... and he fought with terrific heroism in the face of terrible odds.  

   The Battle of Anzio, as depicted by Hollywood

Cavalaire To Besancon.
Bronze Arrowhead (for amphibious landing).
Presidential (Distinguished) Unit Citation - BESANCON.

At 0800 on August 15, 1944, the VI Corp (now assigned to the Seventh Army), which included the 3rd Infantry Division and 30th Infantry Regiment unit, splashed onto the Riviera beaches of the south of France.  This was Lester’s second amphibious assault, having also done so at Anzio.  The goal of the invasion was to “pierce the underbelly of Europe” and drive up the Rhone River valley to the Rhine and towards the Nazi military stronghold of Nuremberg, Germany.  Involving 90,000 troops, it was the second-largest amphibious invasion of the entire war.

Operation Anvil / Dragoon.  The second-largest invasion of World War II.

Prime Minister Churchill disagreed with this invasion plan, preferring to focus on Italy and the oil-rich Balkan region.  He further argued that establishing an Allied position in Eastern Europe would serve as a hedge against future post-war Soviet adventurism.  However, the blood hadn’t yet dried from Churchill’s disastrous Anzio campaign.  General Eisenhower favored the French plan (due in large part to the political persuasion of Charles de Gaulle). 

The name of the plan was changed from Operation Anvil to Operation Dragoon, partly because Churchill had stated that he had been “dragooned into it”. Still, on August 12, 1944, while the troops launched the mission from Naples, Winston Churchill stood on the docks and personally greeted most of the men, often raising one hand high above his head, showing a “V for Victory” sign … while holding a cigar at his waist with the other.

After landing south of St. Tropez, near Cape Cavalaire, Sergeant Ball and Company A swept inland and took possession of a strategic bridge crossing the La Mole River.  Once the entire invasion force had come ashore, the 30th Infantry Regiment once again became the lead element of the 7th Army as the Allies pursued the retreating Germans northward. 

     The landing of the 3rd Infantry Division at St. Tropez

During the initial post-invasion pursuit inland, Lester was struck hard in the back of the head, knocking him to his knees.  He immediately recognized that he had been hit by either a bullet of piece of shrapnel.  He inspected his helmet and observed a huge dent and partial tear in it.  The helmet had saved his life.  He felt the back of his head, and found a large bleeding ‘knot’ on the back of his skull.  Field medics operated on him on site, stitched him up, and sent him forward.

The French villages of Le Luc, Brignoles, Aix-en-Provence, Montelimar, Lyon, Chambery, Besancon, and Vesoul were all liberated by the 30th Infantry Regiment.  At Besancon, the German 159th Infantry Division was rushed to man the Vauban forts surrounding the city.  Its orders: Hold for ten days to protect the retreat.  In anticipation of a strong defense, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division strategically deployed for action.  The 15th IR snagged a bridge across the Doubs; 7th Infantry regiment and 3rd Battalion, 30th, crossed to Besancon's north side; and Lester's 30th, closed in from the south.  At 0300 on September 7th, in a torrential downpour, Company A launched an attack on Fort des Trois Chatels the two most heavily-defended buttresses of the Citadel.  After ten hours of heavy fighting, they finally seized Fort Tousey.  From that location, Lester and Company A made a final assault on the Citadel while under gruesome artillery and large calibre machine gun fire.  Lester was in one of two scaling parties that breached the main wall of the seventeenth-century fortress and captured more than 150 enemy soldiers.  German defenses finally collapsed after three intense days of fighting.  

Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division 
scale the old fortresses of Besancon

Photograph of Company A, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, 
after they had been relieved at Larnod (near Besancon) France.

For outstanding performance of duty in action during the siege at Besancon, the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation:

Assigned the mission of reducing the giant Citadel fortress, key defense bastion of Besancon, and clearing the enemy from vital southern industrial section of that important road net center, the 1st Battalion jumped off on a night frontal attack.  Pushing forward aggressively against dogged German resistance, the 1st Battalion climbed slippery hills through pouring rain under murderous, grazing machine gun, machine pistol, mortar, and flak wagon fire to assault and destroy strong enemy forces entrenched in three rock-walled, supposedly impregnable forts situated on high ground commanding all approaches to the bottle-necked Doubs River loop section of the city.  One by one, the battalion reduced two lesser forts and finally the mighty Citadel, employing skillful flanking maneuvers and masterfully coordinating the heavy fires of infantry-supporting weapons and those of attached armor and artillery.  Although it had moved hundreds of miles and fought two major engagements  during the preceding twenty-two days and although it had been moving thirty-six hours without rest prior to launching the twenty-two hour attack, the 1st Battalion with aggressive, inspired leadership and outstanding individual heroism overcame all opposition and seized its objectives.  A fresh, reinforced enemy battalion was wiped out, 50 Germans killed, 70 wounded, 328 enlisted men and eight officers captured, and vast quantities of German material, including enough mortars, machine guns, rifles, and pistols to equip a battalion were seized or destroyed during the brilliant action.  The 1st battalion's spectacular achievement frustrated the German intention to hold the Citadel until 15 September, pierced the heart of the enemy's defenses of Besancon, crumbling their entire system of mutually supporting forts, materially assisting the 3rd Infantry Division in blocking a vital escape route to German units trapped in the west, and speeded pursuit of remnants of the battered German Nineteenth Army fleeing to the Belfort Gap.  The heroic performance of the officers and men of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment reflects the finest traditions of the Army of the United States.  

By order of the Secretary of War.  

G. C. Marshall, Chief of Staff.

The Colmar Pocket.   
Presidential (Distinguished) Unit Citation - COLMAR.  
French Croix de Guerre (with palm COLMAR).
French Fourragere.  
French Liberation Medal.

By late November, with winter approaching, the Axis had been cut in half.  The Heeresgruppe Oberrhein (Upper Rhine “SS” Army Group), headed by Heinrich Himmler, consolidated their defenses in a heavily-wooded area of eastern France known as the Colmar Pocket.

The Colmar Pocket

Lester recalled the bitter cold during early winter of 1944-45.  He also recounted that there was a great deal of “close-in” fighting in the mountains.  In fact, he told a story that he had been hand-selected for special night-infiltration ops by his superior.  Lester was chosen because he was particularly skilled in back-woods maneuvers and navigation.  His role was to escort a German-speaking soldier from his company, under the cloak of darkness and dressed in stolen German uniforms, into enemy trenches and fox-holes, where they listened-in on conversations and plans of the German army.  He said that he did this successfully on multiple occasions.

The 30th IR, as part of the 3rd Infantry Division (VI Corp), was given the primary responsibility of destroying eight German divisions at Colmar.  The fighting that took place was difficult and brutal … trench warfare fought on wooded and mountainous terrain in freezing temperatures.  Once again, Lester Ball had found himself in one of the most vicious battles of the war.

The command’s instructions to the 30th IR at Colmar were very specific:  

To force a crossing of the Fecht River in its zone, advance with all possible speed to clear the east-west road in its zone through Colmar Forest (Foret Communale de Colmar), and seize objectives indicated on the III River.  To force a crossing of the III River at the earliest possible moment and continue the advance to seize objectives indicated (along a line running east from the III   River south of Maison Rouge bridge).
To extend south to another phase line, blocking to the east.  On Division order, to be prepared to regroup in the Horbourg-Bennwihr area prepared to execute maneuver and capture Colmar from the east, or to pass to Division reserve.  In addition, 30th Infantry was to protect its own left throughout the advance south along the east side of the III; to protect the Division left; to maintain contact with 1 DMI and 5 DB on the left flank, and to reinforce its supporting engineers with one rifle company from the regiment's reserve battalion for the purpose of carrying an infantry footbridge from the Fecht River to the Ill.

The crossing of the Fecht began on January 22, 1945, at Guemar 2100 under heavy enemy mortar file, particularly upon Company A and Lester.  After the crossing, the group turned south and moved through a wooded area with wire obstacles and mines, suffering a number of casualties.  Entering Ostheim at 0400, they engaged the Germans with heavy small arms and machine gun fire that lasted for five hours.  By afternoon, they had pushed fighting into Riedwihr and Holtzwihr where it continued for a second night. 

Then according to an eyewitness, “At 1720, as the Company A was about to reach Riedwihr, the blow fell on it.  The enemy hit with all he had. Men sought in vain for cover.  Bands of grazing machine-gun fire criss-crossed in vicious, cracking streams.  1st Battalion had nowhere to go but to the rear-if possible-nothing with which to combat the thick-sided enemy tanks and the lagdpanzer tank destroyers, and above all no holes from which to fight.”  Temperatures were below zero, yet soldiers were diving into the Ill River for cover and in full retreat.  An emergency call went out for more rifles, machine guns and dry clothes.  Two days later, a “vengeful” 30th IR re-entered the fight.  They would be praised later by the 3rd Infantry Division commander for reorganizing and re-entering the fight so swiftly, "It took a fighting regiment to make the gains you made on January 22-23, but it took a great regiment to come back after the reverses you suffered and kick hell out of the kraut at Holtzwihr and Wickerschwihr.”  

Within days, the enemy had been destroyed … the Nazi’s best and most experienced combat troops extinguished in a fight to the death.  Lester remembered seeing expressions on the faces of captured enemy ranging from anger and exhaustion to relief.  In one stunning episode, Lester saw a German who was about to be taken prisoner hold a grenade against his body and shout “Heil Hitler!” and then blow himself to smithereens. 

With the elimination of the German forces at Colmar, the fighting on what was known as the “western front” came to an end.  From here on, all of the fighting would take place in Germany.>

On February 20, 1945, there was a notable ceremony in Colmar. The 30th Infantry (with Lester in attendance), represented the 3rd Division's infantry; a battery of the 41st FA Battalion, the artillery.  General Charles de Gaulle, representing the French Provisional Government, personally awarded them with the French Croix de Guerre for heroism in combat. In addition, the entire U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division was awarded a Presidential (Distinguished) Unit Citation by President Roosevelt. Here is the text of those citations awarded to the 3rd Division for their action in the Colmar Pocket:

Fighting incessantly, from 22 January to 6 February 1945, in heavy snow storms, through enemy-infested marshes and woods, and over a flat plain criss-crossed by numerous small canals, irrigation ditches, and unfordable streams, terrain ideally suited to the defense, breached the German wall on the northern perimeter of the Colmar bridgehead and drove forward to isolate Colmar from the Rhine. Crossing the Fecht River from Guemar, Alsace, by stealth during the   late hours of darkness of 22 January, the assault elements fought their way forward against mounting resistance.

Reaching the Ill River, a bridge was thrown across but collapsed before armor could pass to the support of two battalions of the 30th Infantry on the far side.  Isolated and attacked by a full German Panzer brigade, outnumbered and out-gunned, these valiant troops were forced back yard by yard. Wave after wave of armor and infantry was hurled against them but despite hopeless odds the regiment was hurled against them but despite hopeless odds the regiment hold tenaciously to its bridgehead.  Driving forward in knee-deep snow, which masked acres of densely sown mines, the 3d Infantry Division fought from house to house and street to street in the fortress towns of the Alsatian Plain.

Under furious concentrations of supporting fire, assault troops crossed the Colmar Canal in rubber boats during the night of 29 January. Driving relentlessly forward, six towns were captured within 8 hour hours, 500 casualties inflicted on the enemy during the day, and large quantities of booty seized. Slashing through to the Rhone-Rhine Canal, the garrison at Colmar was cut off and the fall of the city assured. Shifting the direction of attack, the division moved south between the Rhone-Rhine Canal and the Rhine toward Neuf Brisach and the Brisach Bridge. Synchronizing the attacks, the bridge was seized and Neuf Brisach captured by crossing the protecting moat and scaling the medieval walls by ladder.

In one of the hardest fought and bloodiest campaigns of the war, the 3d Infantry Division annihilated three enemy divisions, partially destroyed three others, captured over  4,000 prisoners, and inflicted more than 7,500 casualties on the enemy.

The Road To Nuremberg.  
Earning The Silver Star.

The jump off took place on March 15, 1945.  The movement of the 30th Infantry Regiment from Nancy would be one of secrecy, all markings for the units in the main assault would be blackened out using adhesive.  numbers, patches both on the shoulder and on the helmet were completely removed.  The pace of attack was slow at first, while Lester and Company A led the regiment across the mine-filled Siegfried Line.  He was among the first handful Allied troops to cross that infamous line.

Zweibrucken and Worms were secured and the Rhine was crossed with only initial resistance … the intimidation of overwhelming American numbers caused the Germans to pull back and re-group.  Once the 30th IR captured Heppenheim, they rushed forty kilometers forward to Lindenfels, where they rescued 2,200 hospitalized prisoners of war.  On March 29, Company A spearheaded an assault on Bad Kissingen where they captured 22 hospitals and recovered 2,825 patients.

Crossing the Rhine and pushing into Germany.  Early 1945.

The 30th Infantry Regiment moved east and southeast and met considerable artillery and antitank fire from the vicinity of Hambach and Maibach, outer defensive points protecting Schweinfurt.  All of the surrounding roads had been heavily mined, making the going treacherous.

During these Rhine operations, Lester was sent forward with a small contingent of men to scout enemy movements.  Their advance force was ambushed and (again) many in his group were killed.  He said that some of these men had been his best friends since the earliest days in Naples.  As he recalled events, he hesitated for a moment,  then said that he was walking with his buddy ... and the next thing he knew was that his friend’s face was missing … ‘the man stood still for several seconds before falling to the ground’.  Lester survived by hitting the ground with his friend and crawling through the weeds into a nearby woods.  He eventually hid under a bridge and waited to be rescued.  During his wait, an entire German Panzer tank division passed over him while in full retreat.

Main River near Nuremberg

Fighting intensified as Allied troops progressed into Germany.  The enemy was throwing everything they had at the encroaching army.  By April 15, the juggernaut was rolling into Bavaria and resistance had devolved into guerilla warfare; improvised mines, booby-traps, relentless sniper activity, suicide and napalm attacks.  Lester recalled that one of the most telling and disturbing signs about the state of the war was that many enemy soldiers were teens and children.  He said that he was particularly disturbed when he shot and killed a sniper ... and when he rolled the body over, discovered that he had killed a young woman.

The 3rd Division's crossing of the Main River was accomplished by the 30th Infantry taking the lead in assault boats at a point near Untertheres. Company A, commanded by Capt. Hugh S. Montgomery, met enemy Flakwagon and other fire near the village of Dampfach shortly after making the crossing but allied artillery placed effective fire on the enemy positions and silenced the only display of resistance that marked the crossing.

Complicating matters, as the Americans were entering into the industrial sectors of the Third Reich, they encountered mountains of rubble that once comprised the infrastructure of cities like Dusseldorf, Frankfort, and Stuttgart.  These cities were targets of intense Allied bombings. From the outskirts, Lester saw that Nuremberg appeared to be no exception. 

Nuremberg was virtually destroyed
by aerial bombardment, artillery, and tank fire

Nuremberg was more than a political capital, it was a shrine to Nazism.  The Germans were determined to make a strong bid to defend it.  Hundreds of anti-aircraft guns had been gathered and placed in strategic locations and trained on approaching American ground troops.  Other artillery and large-caliber machine guns were hidden in windows, doorways and other vantage points from which to kill the enemy.  Three entire battle groups had been assembled to defend Nuremberg.  One of them was comprised of 140 members of the Nuremberg Police Department and 150 members of the Nuremberg Fire Department.  However, the strongest of these three groups was the Dirnagel, comprised of elite SS troops. 

The penetration of Nuremberg was made especially difficult by the fact that the city was a "city within a city", with giant protective stone walls and parapets built during the twelfth century completely surrounding the inner section, the original fortifications of Nuremberg from feudal days.  On April 17, the 15th IR entered the outskirts of Nuremberg first.  Fighting raged for two days, with soldiers withstanding blistering rocket and gunfire and with no sleep.  Attacks and counter-attacks continued within the city.  Hand to hand combat was common.  Sniper fire relentless. 

 The 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, 
trepidatiously enters Nuremberg, Germany

Finally, on April 19, the 30th IR made the final drive to clear Nuremberg in a wide flanking movement driving in from the northeast. The 30th Infantry Regiment's advance through the outer city, with Companies A and B spearheading the drive.  They finally breached the walled city, enabling the 3rd Division to enter the old fortress.

Lester, as part of Company A, was tasked with leading the thrust from Nordostliche Assenstadt near Schafhof, following the rail lines, toward the city center.  Resistance intensified as Company A pressed forward through the narrow streets and piles of rubble.  Suddenly, his squad had been caught in cross-fire from hidden machine gun emplacements and several of his soldiers had been shot and killed.  His unit had wandered into a trap and unless something was done quickly, they would all be dead.  

Lester grabbed a 60mm mortar and ran twenty-five yards clear of his men.  Disregarding his own life and completely exposed to enemy fire, he set up the weapon and began firing on the Nazi positions.  Rockets exploded on the ground at his feet, covering him in dirt and injuring him with shrapnel.  Bullets ricocheted all around him.  He fired several rounds, one of them making a direct hit on the gunners, killing several and incapacitating eleven of them.  As a result of his actions, ten Nazis surrendered and he and the two remaining men in his squad survived.

Another member of Company A also performed heroically during that same engagement.  Technician Fifth Grade, Courtland D. Mott, acted with gallantry and intrepidity in battle, and made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow soldiers.  He earned a posthumous Silver Star.

Lester and Company A gathered themselves and continued forward, arriving at the inner wall of the old city at noon on the 19th, bringing 150 prisoners with them.  The final major conflict took place at Laufer Tower, where 125 Nazis fought with pistols until the 2nd Battalion trained a bazooka on them … then out came the white flag.  Brief fire-fights persisted but they were generally disorganized and by noon on April 20, the Allies had subdued Nuremberg and marched into Adolf Hitler Platz. 

 At 1830 on April 20, the Americans raise the stars and stripes
in Adolf Hitler Platz, Nuremberg, Germany.

A military ceremony was conducted at the infamous Zeppelintribune (Nuremberg Zeppelin Stadium) on April 22 when Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, Commanding General of the 7th Army, presented five members of the Division with the Congressional Medal of Honor in an impressive display witnessed by many of the famous news correspondents and radio announcers of the European Theater of Operations.  The 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry (with Lester and Company A), all blitzed up with new infantry jackets, painted helmets and new boots, represented infantrymen of the Division at the ceremony.

The Zeppelintribune during the height
of the Third Reich.

The April 22 3rd Infantry

Very likely, Lester witnessed the famous explosion of the giant swastika
mounted atop the stadium structure. 

Bavaria And Berchtesgaden.   
Good Conduct Medal.
World War II Victory Medal.
Army of Occupation Medal (Germany clasp).  

With Nuremberg captured, the 30th IR set out for Munich, with Company A capturing Weringen and a fully-equipped airplane factory at Roggden, after crossing the Danube on their way to Eistenbrechtshofen. It was poised to attack Augsburg from the north.

But in its last gasp to protect Munich, two German divisions (dug in along the Autobahn just north of Augsburg) launched the most aggressive artillery attacks since Anzio, as the 30th IR attempted to cross the Lech River. More than fifty dual-purpose "88" cannons and dozens of 120mm "Tiger Royal" tanks bombarded Lester and his fellow troops relentlessly for several hours, until they were able to cut through enemy lines and capture eighteen 88s. Remaining resistance withdrew along the railroad tracks into Augsburg, where it ultimately melted, with hundreds of Hitler Jugend and SS troops surrendering with little struggle.

The 3rd Infantry Division, with the 30th Infantry Regiment in the lead, surged deeper into Bavaria, capturing Munich on April 30th.  As Lester Ball was marching into Munich,  Adolf Hitler was committing suicide in the Fuhrerbunker, three hundred miles to the north, in Berlin. 

In a dangerously surreal turn of events, the American army arriving in Munich would be alternately greeted by people throwing flowers and giving them kisses on one street, only to be shot at by snipers at the very next one.  Ultimately, they were greeted by a twenty-five man SS suicide squad perched with a rocket-launcher in a building near Marienplatz.  They were dispatched with a single M26 tank round.     
Just outside Munich, Lester visited the infamous Dachau concentration camp and said that he witnessed some of the cruelest and most disturbing circumstances that he ever saw in his life.  He said that the odor was the worst part of the experience; that it seemed like “death hung in the air”.  Lester’s son, Mike, remembers him saying emotionally, “what they did to those people was not right.”

With Berlin completely surrounded, by the Soviets to the east and Americans to the west, the fate of the war was crystal clear.  Only pockets of opposition remained as Lester and the 30th Infantry Regiment seized Berchtesgaden on May 4.   Nothing but smoldering ruins of Hitler’s Der Berghof Obersalzburg greeted the 3rd Division.  Allied bombing activity had been so extensive that there was nothing left but charred wreckage.

 Lt.Col. Kenneth Wallace, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
discusses the surrender of Berchtesgaden with Bürgermeister Karl Sandrock
in the square in front of the war memorial.

Lester recalled visiting Adolf Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest lair, perched atop Kehlstein Mountain.  The tiny chalet had survived bombing runs but not the invading soldiers intent on taking a piece of the Third Reich home with them.  The place had been basically stripped clean.  He remembered watching his fellow soldiers scrounging around, attempting to gather Nazi souvenirs for themselves.  He laughed, saying that most everything had already been taken … some soldiers were even trying to chip pieces of stone off the fireplaces.  Lester took nothing.

The 3rd Infantry Division
at Hitler’s Kehlsteinhaus,
“Eagle’s Nest”

On May 5, 1945, the 3rd Infantry Division was headquartered for a brief time at Schloss Klessheim, near Salzburg.  It was there that they were informed of the surrender of the German army on May 8, 1945.  Afterward, they were re-assigned to Bad Wildungen as part of post-war occupation forces in Germany.

In rare, post-war interview, German Field Marshall Kesselring was asked by Chicago Tribune war correspondent Seymour Korman, "What was the best American division faced by troops under your command on either the Italian or Western Fronts?"

Without hesitation, at the top of his list was, "The  3rd Infantry Division."


The 30th Infantry Regiment had the highest casualty rate of any U.S. regiment in the European Theatre, totaling 8,308 men.  Of the original 30th IR landing group of 224 officers and 5021 men that landed at Fedala, French Morocco on November 8, 1942, only 32 officers and 498 enlisted men were still active members at war’s end.  Lester, having joined the regiment when they first landed on the European continent, was among them.  He had survived an attrition rate of ninety percent. 

The regiment was one of the most honored during World War II, earning 12 Congressional Medals of Honor, 39 Distinguished Service Crosses, 854 Silver Stars, and 1,068 Bronze Stars.  The regiment performed five amphibious assaults under fire and endured 531 days of continuous hard combat.  

War correspondent Harry J. Taylor noted in an article he wrote in October 1945, “The Third Infantry Division battled through more campaigns, covered more territory, made more amphibious assaults, and received more individual decorations for its men than any other American Division in World War II”.

For his heroics during the war, Lester earned several important commendations including the Purple Heart, EAME (European-African-Middle Eastern) Theater Ribbon (with a silver and two bronze (7) 'campaign' stars recognizing the following: Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland, and Central Europe), Bronze Arrowhead Medal (for multiple amphibious assaults), Presidential Distinguished Unit Badge, Army of Occupation (Germany) Medal, and Good Conduct Medal ... in addition to the French Croix de Guerre and fourragere.  His highest recognition was yet to come.

For Gallantry In Action.
The Silver Star Medal.
The Bronze Star Medal.

On June 16, 1945, Sergeant Lester Ball was presented with the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration that can be awarded to an individual in any branch of the United States Armed Forces for "gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States" for his heroism at Nuremberg, Germany:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Sergeant Lester Ball (ASN: 35795590), United States Army, for gallantry in action while serving with Company A, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division. When enemy snipers and a machine gun held up the advance of his company into Nurnberg, Germany, on the afternoon of 19 April 1945, Sergeant Ball advanced 25 yards, to an exposed position within 400 yards of the enemy and set up a 60-mm. mortar. Under strong enemy fire which hit within a yard of him, Sergeant Ball fired numerous shells into their positions, inflicting eleven casualties, causing ten to surrender and neutralizing the enemy machine gun.

General Orders:
Headquarters, 3d Infantry Division, General Orders No. 212 (June 16, 1945)

In addition, Lester also received the Bronze Star Medal, awarded for heroism and meritorious achievement or service in military operations against an armed enemy. The Bronze Star Medal was authorized for each individual who was cited in orders or awarded a certificate of exemplary conduct in ground combat between 7 December 1941 and 2 September 1945. 

Lester Ball - Honorable Discharge Photo
November 1945

The Road Home.  

Lester departed the European Theatre on October 23, 1045, arriving in CONUS on November 2, 1945.  Lester was honorably discharged from active duty at Camp Atterbury, Indiana on November 7, 1945.  At the time of his discharge, his organization was listed as Headquarters Battery, 965th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm Howitzer), VII US Corps.  He had completed two years, six months, and thirteen days of active service (eighty percent of his service was involved in heavy combat).  His mustering out pay was $300.

He had mixed feelings about returning home.  His beloved Edith was there waiting for him, but he had not seen her in three years.  Moreover, Lester was self-conscious about the wounds to his face.  When he returned, they were married and eventually moved to Sidney, Ohio, where he worked for Stolle Corporation as a floor supervisor for forty years.  Edith also supported the family by operating a beauty shop in their home and working for a Shaklee distributorship, doing office work.  Lester did not take part in veteran or any other post-war military activities.  He preferred to leave it all behind.

In 1986, Lester and Edith retired to The Villages, near Lady Lake, Florida. Lester regularly played golf and he was very competitive for his age. On one occasion, while riding in a golf cart with his son-in-law Tom, he pointed out a couple of small marble-shaped lumps on his thighs and a couple smaller ones on the lower part of his lower legs. He asked Tom if he knew what they were and with a soft giggle said that they were pieces of shrapnel. Shrapnel from his heroic actions in Nuremberg, Germany. He had, indeed, been hit by mortar fire while he was setting up his own mortar. He didn’t want to bring the wounds to anyone’s attention at the time and he never bothered to have them removed (and he wasn’t really sure if it was American or Nazi shrapnel). He did show Tom the back of his hand and pointed out where he had removed other pieces of shrapnel by himself over the years. That was just like Lester. He was truly a quiet hero.

He should have received, at the very least, multiple Purple Heart recognitions for other battle-related wounds received in France and Nuremberg.

To be buried at Arlington National Cemetery is a tremendous honor. As a Silver Star recipient, Lester qualified for interment there, but the idea of not being near Edith made him hesitant.  However, after discussing the matter with his family, and confirming that both he and Edith could be buried there together, he was convinced that it was important to accept the honor and leave a significant legacy for future generations.  

Edith passed away in 2007 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  Lester attended the simple ceremony on a cold and blustery winter day, along with son Michael and daughter Tammy. 

Barely a year later, Lester would join Edith.  In June of 2008, after passing away on April 29th, Lester was buried at Arlington with military honors.  A brief private ceremony took place under a small tent that included a twenty-one gun salute, the presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps.  Then Michael and Tam carried his ashes from the funeral bier to the gravesite and placed them on the ground next to the white arched headstone marked with Edith’s name.  The headstone would be later removed and re-carved with his name and military citations.  From his location in Section 54, surrounded by other men of valor, the Washington Monument is clearly visible.


Arlington National Cemetery
Section: 54
Grave: 5326


... loving husband, wonderful father, and doting grandfather.
A truly beautiful man.




Veterans Administration Regional Office

St. Petersburg, Florida

March 22, 1989

Lester Ball  C 13 281 816

CHM: This is a hearing before Finley Johnson, Hearing Officer of the Veterans Administration Regional Office, St. Petersburg, Florida in the case of Lester Ball, Claim Number C-13-281-816.  The date is March 22, 1989.  The time is approximately 9:00am.  Let the record indicate that Mr. Ball has been sworn in and is represented by Mr. Dennis Bonner of the American Legion.  Mr. Bonner, would you care to begin by stating the issue for the hearing?

Bonner:  Certainly, sir.  Service-connection for a hearing loss is the issue that we are now contending.  The Veteran is present today to present his testimony and contentions that service-connection for a hearing loss should be granted due to the wounds to his head and jaw in World War II.  The Veteran also requests a copy of today’s Hearing transcripts.  At this time, I have a few questions for Mr. Ball.

CHM:  Alright, proceed Mr. Bonner.

Bonner:  Mr. Ball, I’d like you to describe the incident where you received the injury to your jaw.

Lester Ball:  This was on the Anzio Beachhead.  And we were told to attack this position and take two (2) houses and take a big ravine, which we did.  And with all the artillery and the mortars and “88s” and everything coming in, that’s when one (1) got me through the chin.  And then I went back to First Aid, which I was out for about a month, then I went back up which represented about six (6) months altogether on the Anzio Beachhead.

Bonner:  Okay.  Now when you were back having your jaw worked on, how was your hearing at the time?

Lester Ball:  Well, when I got hit and I went back, we had a Field Hospital there.  And I went in, which they done my wound and everything.  And then they shipped me out of there by boat to the 300 General Hospital, and my … that’s when they wired my teeth together and put my whole chin in … and I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t hear anything for several days until they took the wires off of my mouth and opened my mouth up, my hearing was starting to come back, which was it was like my whole head was plugged up at the time.

Bonner:  Yes.

Lester Ball:  And that was some terrible feeling, some experience to go through that.  Felt like I was going to lose my sanity.

Bonner:  You say you also received a couple of other wounds that weren’t in your record.  You have one (1) scar on your … the left side of your skull.  Could you display that to the Hearing Officer, please, as to where it is located?

Lester Ball:  This was from D-Day in Southern France, we was going up through France.  And I got hit in the back of my helmet which made a dent in it,  which I was left with a big knot on my head.  And I went back to First Aid, which they operated on me and, you know, put stitching on it.  And then I went back into battle again.

Bonner:  How long were you back getting that treated?

Lester Ball:  Just long enough to get the …

Bonner:  A week or so?

Lester Ball:  Yeah, it wasn’t very long until they took the stitches out.  Maybe eight (8) days or something.  Didn’t take too long.

Bonner:  You also received the wounds here, back where you … where eventually a piece of shrapnel worked out and was removed by your private physician.  That also isn’t part of your record.  Would you just talk about that a little bit?

Lester Ball:  Well, I had this piece of shrapnel on my spine which they said would work out, which it did years later.

Bonner:  About how long was that?

Lester Ball:  Oh, about 1960, I believe.  It worked up to where it was … where it would come right out.  My doctor then took that out.

Bonner:  So, all in all, you were wounded three (3) times, at least once what would be considered a severe wound.  Would … was this a kind … I mean, the number of battles you were in, you were with your outfit from when they landed in Africa, all the way to Austria.

Lester Ball:  I was with my outfit from Italy all the way into Germany.

Bonner:  Okay.  And you said it was for two (2) years?

Lester Ball:  Two years.  I was in battle for most of the time for the whole two years, all the way from Anzio Beachhead all the way into Germany.

Bonner:  That’s where you got your Silver Star?

Lester Ball:  I got my Silver Star in Salzburg (incorrect) … well, just after the Siegfried Line.  We went through the Siegfried Line and they had us pinned down, this machine gun did.  And my sergeant asked me to bring … and it was only … he had only me and two other guys left in my Squad.  And he asked me to bring a mortar and come up, so I set the mortar up and got real lucky on the first barrage, it hit the machine gun.  Then I laid down three (3) or four (4) more rounds with the mortar, which they run up the white flag and gave up.  So my sergeant congratulated me.  And that’s the reason I got a Silver Star.  He turned my name in and made a claim, and they gave me a Silver Star for that.

Bonner:  You say you were in a tremendous amount of combat.  You said you had artillery barrages, you had 88-millimeteres, from railroad guns …

Lester Ball:  Ack-ack …

Bonner:  Mortars …

Lester Ball:  … mortars …

Bonner:  … machine guns …

Lester Ball:  … tanks and machine guns.  You name it, I’ve had it.

Bonner:  How close were you to your own guns when they were fired?

Lester Ball:  Well, when I first went into Anzio Beachhead, I was a rifleryman.  And I got one Division that went back in Anzio Beachhead before we … had made the sale made then with Kruschev. They touched me, they gave me a sergeant’s rating and gave me a platoon, a mortar platoon, which with shooting got damage all the time, ‘cause if you drop a shell into it, it explodes.  And there was no way to protect you from the noise of firing a mortar.  And that’s what I set up and blasted this machine gun.

Bonner:  How many days would you say you were actually in battle, when all these enormous explosions and concussions were about you?  How many actual days?

Lester Ball:  I would have no idea.

Bonner:  But it was fairly continuous?

Lester Ball:  On Anzio Beachhead, that was six months down there, that was from January ‘til June which, if you’re on Anzio Beachhead, that’s only about five to fifteen miles that were under continuous barrage.  But you got so good at it, that you’d know a shell was comin’ at you, off to the side of you, over your head, you’d know where the shell was coming, when it was coming in.  And you could hear them come up.  And you could tell when they was gonna hit close to you. But those 88s, if you heard it you’re alright; if you didn’t it was too late.

Bonner:  You’d rather hear ‘em coming, then.  When did you first start noticing that your hearing was declining?

Lester Ball:  Well, I noticed that after I got out of the service, when I’d try to talk on the phone or anything, I couldn’t hear in the one ear, so I’d switch to the other ear.

Bonner:  Which ear was the one you couldn’t hear in first?

Lester Ball:  My right ear.

Bonner:  And why are you not wearing a hearing aid in there now?  And do you have a hearing-aid in your left ear now?

Lester Ball:  Well, the doctor explained to me that he thought a hearing-aid in my right ear, when I had so much nerve damage, that it would not do me any good.  And so he put a hearing-aid in my left ear, my best ear.  But then he tried to raise the volume where I could …

Bonner:  And it would compensate for the hearing loss in your other ear?

Lester Ball:  And that’s what he told me, but he told me he didn’t think it would do any good at all to put one in my right ear.  But then I go to Gainesville and they think I should have …

Bonner:  Well, hearing-aid technology has improved.  One additional question; I’d like to ask you about the type of occupation you’ve had since you left the service.

Lester Ball:  I was in a finishing company where we done all kinds of finish work, hanging silk-screen, polishing, plating … I was mostly in the paint area of the finishing company.  It’s a nice quiet … not a lot of noises.  But the company is so big now, they was like a family thing when I started.  I worked there forty (40) years, and the company got so big and my hearing got so bad in the last ten years that they took me out, and I was computering loads on the big trucks, balancing the loads on the big trucks when they went out.  For the past five years, that’s what I done.  And computerized and balanced all those loads.

Bonner:  Has any audiologist said that the reason your hearing has declined is because of the constant noise exposure during World War II?

Lester Ball:  No, we had my hearing tests and all of that.  I didn’t even pass when I first had it.  There’s no one ever said they …

Bonner:  Did you ever tell anyone about the noise exposure you had in World War II?

Lester Ball:  I asked when I went down to Cincinnati to the Veterans Hospital down there, when I was down there on my jaw.

Bonner:  When was that?

Lester Ball:  That was about 1950, maybe 1955 or so … in the 1950s.  And I asked them, but they said they didn’t want that, they wanted to take care of my jaw.  So I didn’t get any information on my hearing or no information on my other wound on the back of my head or anything.  The only thing they wanted to do was work on my chin.  That’s the only thing I got done from them at all.

Bonner:  Why have you waited so long to come in here?

Lester Ball:  Well, I was in Cincinnati, they wanted to redo my whole chin, to re-operate.  So I didn’t want that, so I left and I didn’t go back.  I got my own doctor, a dentist who was taking care of my chin.  He passed away.  So I went back, got an appointment and went back down to see them to get my teeth and chin worked on by a dentist.  They wanted to operate on me and everything, so they could take out all the scar tissue, but I thought that would be too hard, you know …

Bonner:  Leave it like it is.

Lester Ball:  … to leave it like it is.

Bonner:  I have no further questions, Mr. Johnson.

CHM:  Thank you, Mr. Bonner.  Mr. Ball, while you were in the hospital being treated for the injuries to your jaw, did they ever give you any specific treatment for your ears?

Lester Ball:  No.

CHM:  Do you recall at the time while you were hospitalized, I know you stated that you could not hear for a while afterwards, did you notice or were you made aware of any bleeding from the ears at that point?

Lester Ball:  I don’t think so.

CHM:  Approximately after how long after you were aware of your injuries did your hearing begin to return?

Lester Ball:  It was probably maybe seven (7) or eight (8) days, something like that … before my hearing started to clear up.

CHM:  Did you, at any other point in time while you were still on active duty, seek any treatment for your ears?

Lester Ball:  I never had them treated.

CHM:  In your testimony you stated that you had a hearing test, you were not able to pass it.  Where was this and what time-frame are we talking about?

Lester Ball:  This was where I worked, some kind of survey or something, they was going to be giving hearing tests and stuff.  The state of Ohio was running it.  And they came in; I didn’t pass it when they gave it to me.  And that was the first hearing test I ever had.

CHM:  Do you recall the year when that happened?

Lester Ball:  Probably the 1960s.

CHM:  During the period you were in combat in Europe, I know that, the noises of artillery and the mortars, the small arms is a constant factor in combat.  But were there any particular situations or times when you can remember that the blast or the percussion was so close to you that you could actually feel the percussion to your ears?

Lester Ball:  You could feel the ground moving while you’re into it, you’re so close.  There was a lot of it aimed directly at you.  If an artillery shell made a five foot crater over here (five foot away from you) you could feel the whole thing.  And when that railroad gun came out, that 282 or 280 or 283 or whatever it was, every time it came out and they’d drop one of theirs over to you, it really vibrated everything.  And when I was back in the 300th General Hospital, even back there, they bombed that thing too.  And had to do all kinds of duck and cover back there in the hospital.  When we’d go through them artillery barrages, they were something else.  You got good enough at it by going through so many of them that you could tell when the rounds were coming in or when they were going by.  And you could duck down in your hole and protect yourself.  And when you fired your mortar and every time it blasted, you could only hold one ear because you had to drop the shell with the other hand.  And every time it went off, you got a blast in the ear from it.

CHM:  Mr. Ball, following the injury you received to the jaw, were you given an option of returning stateside or remaining with your unit?

Lester Ball:  Yeah, I could have stayed if I wanted to.

CHM:  But I mean when you were in the hospital, were you given the option of returning stateside at that point in time?

Lester Ball:  No.  Never was.

CHM:  Alright, thank you, Mr. Ball.  I have no additional questions at this point.  Mr. Bonner, do you have any additional questions of Mr. Ball?

Bonner:  Not of Mr. Ball.  I do have one question for Ms. Ball, if I may.  Ms. Ball, how long have you known your husband?

Edith Ball:  I met him just a couple months when he came out of the service.

Bonner:  Did you notice any hearing problems at that time?

Edith Ball:  We’ve lived through this for forty-four years.

Bonner:  Did he ever complain about his ears over that time?

Edith Ball:  Well, he was always conscious of his scars and he’s always been very quiet.  He’s never talked a whole lot.  I learned to recognize when something was really on his mind, and I would try to get him to talk about it.  So a lot of things that he’s told me, he’s brought out like that.  But he’s complained with his … with his ears … with his whole head.  The pressure would be so bad in his head.  You’ve seen how he puts things off, no one could ever get him to go.  He won’t apply for help.

Bonner:  Well, we will try to address try.  That’s why I had this testimony.

CHM:  Any final comments?

Lester Ball:  I …  well, I would like to make a comment.  I do need help with my hearing.  And I don’t have enough money; I only get a small allotment to live off of and it takes most of it for me to live.  And I don’t have the money to pursue this myself.  That’s the reason I am here, trying to get some kind of help so I’ll be able to hear even with any type of hearing-aid.  If I can get the person on the good side and I have to hear them, they’re dim.  I can understand most of what they saying if I look straight at them, which I have gotten very good at that because of my hearing.  I don’t know what else to say.  I do need help.

CHM:  Mr. Bonner, is there any additional?

Bonner:  May I comment.  One of the things by examining the record, we notice a few of the problems that were exhibited today.  And the primary one is … the fact that I believe my client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and we will be amending his claim for that.  The thing that seems to occur is essentially his avoidance of having sought help immediate after service for his problem.  Apparently it is involved with his nervous condition; and what we would like to do is have an assessment made under that premise, in that he … there was an avoidance … to a problem so severe at the time.  But this nerve damage is exhibited in the report made by the people in Gainesville; what they said is, lots and lots of nerve damage.  And he has no other scars  than that which he received in the service, he had no severe noise exposure beyond what he had in service, which was two (2) years of constant combat, active combat, front-line, heavy-duty, us-against-the-Germans.  And I’d like that to be really appreciated by yourself and whoever else would have to review this.

CHM:  Thank you, Mr. Bonner.  You will be submitting the Amended Claim.  Then it is noted on the transcript that it would be best to also get written documentation in the file for the amended issue.  I would like to thank you, Mr. Ball, for appearing and presenting your testimony, and I’d like to thank you, Ms. Ball, for appearing and testifying also, and Mr. Bonner for his able representation.  We will be adjourned.



 Route of the 3rd Infantry Division in World War II.


I wouldn’t give a bean to be a fancy pants Marine,
I’d rather be a Dogface soldier like I am,
I wouldn’t trade my old O.D.s for all the Navy dungarees,
For I am the walking pride of Uncle Sam;
On all the posters that I read, it says the Army builds men,
So they’re tearing me down to build me up again,
I’m just Dogface soldier with a rifle on my shoulder,
And I eat Kraut for breakfast every day.
So feed me ammunition, keep me in the 3rd Division,
Your Dogfaced soldier boy’s okay!!

The Dogface Soldier, written in 1942 by two U.S. Army infantry soldiers;
was adopted as the song of the 3rd Infantry Division, and was widely played and sung during the war.  The song sold more than 300,000 copies.  The song is still sung every morning after reveille by the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division while in garrison at Ft. Stewart, Ga. (Division Headquarters).



Lester Ball - Silver Star Award

Lester Ball - Purple Heart Award 

Lester Ball - Honorable Discharge Documents (1945)

Lester Ball - Corrected Military Record (2015)



In the spring of 2016, Arlington National Cemetery updated Lester's military record,
and a new headstone marker, recognizing his bronze star award,
was placed at his and Edith's grave.

Lester is also recognized
with a memorial brick at the
National World War II Museum
in New Orleans, Louisiana.



In order to maintain as much accuracy as possible with the narrative, 
some sections of the text in this story were drawn directly from source material.  

We express our appreciation to everyone who provided source information 
and photography used in this account.

Lester Ball, Edith Ball, Michael Ball, Tammy (Ball) Olin, Tom Olin

History Of The Third Infantry Division In World War II (Divisional Series).  Donald G. Taggart.  Washington, Infantry Journal Press.  1947.

History of 30th Infantry Regiment World War II  Rupert Prohme.  Washington, Infantry Journal Press.  1947.

30th Infantry Regiment Association (website).  (http://www.warfoto.com/30inf.htm).

30th Infantry Regiment (Wikipedia) (website).  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/30th_Infantry_Regiment_%28United_States%29).

HyperWar: U.S. Army in World War II (website).  (http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/).

3rd Infantry Division History (website).  (http://ranger95.com/3rd_id_history/index.html).

30th Infantry Regiment “Wild Boars” (website).  (http://www.foxlivinghistory.com/History.html).

Dogface Soldiers: U.S. Third Division (website).  (http://www.dogfacesoldiers.org/).

Allied Invasion of Northwest Africa (website).  (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/ww2/northwestAfrica.html).

Anzio Beachhead 22 January—24 May, 194).4.  (website).  (http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/anziobeach/anzio-fm.htm).

The Battle For Anzio (pdf) (website).  (http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/jfq_pubs/1308.pdf).

The Angels Of Anzio-The Nurse Corp: Sicily to Anzio (website). (http://darbysrangers.tripod.com/id76.htm).

Lone Sentry: A German Defense Area On The Anzio Front (website). (http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/gedefarea/index.html).

Military History Online (Anzio-The Allies Greatest Blunder of World War II) (website).  (http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/italy/articles/anzio.aspx).

U.S. Army-Colmar Pocket. (website).  (http://www.ww2incolor.com/us-army/Audie.html).

Third Reich In Ruins. Geoffrey Walden. (website).  (http://www.thirdreichruins.com/).

Berchtesgaden-The Eagle’s Nest (website).  (http://www.warfoto.com/berchesg.htm).

BBC History:  Animated Map.  The North Africa campaign (website).  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/animations/wwtwo_map_n_africa/index_embed.shtml).

World War II Military Situation Maps (website).  (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/maps/wwii/).

University of Texas, Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection (website).  (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/history_ww2.html).

Lester Ball - Quiet Hero.  High resolution 1500 pixel format.
(Click on images to enlarge)

Winter 2015