I had been introduced over the phone to Alton Ballard by Bob Williams and was now en route to meet with him at his home in Baldwin Hills, California. When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice that his house had a spectacular view of downtown Los Angeles. This was just the start of what turned into a fabulous day getting to know Alton. He told me several hours’ worth of stories about his years flying in the military.
In 1942, Alton Ballard was a new cadet in class 43-H-SE at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. In primary training, he had flight instruction in PT-17 Stearman biplanes. He then moved into flying the BT-13 for basic training. Then, for advanced training, they flew the AT-6 Texan. His class graduated from flight training in 1943 and received their “wings”.
Alton was now an officer in the US Army Air Force with the rank of second lieutenant. He was deployed overseas in December 1943 to Ramitelli, Italy as a pilot in the 332nd Fighter Group. At the time of his arrival, the 332nd was flying P-39 Airacobras, then the P-47 Thunderbolt, and finally the magnificent P-51 Mustang.
He flew 89 combat missions. Most of these missions were to protect the bombers from the Italian and German fighters, a mission that the 332nd did exceptionally well. For the combat missions that he flew, he was awarded an Air Medal for meritorious achievement the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Alton returned to the US assigned to Tuskegee Army Air Base as a flight instructor, eventually retiring from the Air Force with the rank of captain.
I found him to be a very pleasant person and thoroughly enjoyed all of the conversations that I had with him. Alton Ballard died at the age of 94 after living an incredible life.