Carol Ball of Merrick recalls an unexpected long-distance courtship with future husband John.
I met John at a pizzeria in our Richmond Hill, Queens, neighborhood while we were out with a group of friends. It was August 1964. I was 15 and going into my sophomore year at Richmond Hill High School. John was 19. He had graduated from Edison Vocational High School in Jamaica Hills and was now working.
We began hanging out together with our friends. John asked me to go out with him many times. Although I enjoyed his company — he has a great sense of humor — I kept turning him down. I finally agreed to our first date in January 1965. He took me to see a movie at the Valencia Theatre in Jamaica, and we continued dating.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, John was drafted into the Marine Corps on Nov. 18, 1965. After basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, he came home on a 20-day leave. He told me he was being deployed to Vietnam.
In April 1966, John was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California with the 26th Marines Battalion, 126th Charlie Company, before shipping out on the USS Iwo Jima that July. While aboard the ship he sent my father a letter asking for my hand in marriage. When my father gave his blessing, John purchased an engagement ring on the ship and mailed it to me.
John served in the infantry in Da Nang, Phú Bài and Khe Sanh. His father sent him a newspaper every week and I wrote to him every day. He brought all of my letters back home with him.
John returned to the States in August 1967 and was assigned to Quantico, Virginia, where he served on guard duty for Training Officer School. He was able to come home on weekends. John finished his military service in November.
We were married on Jan. 7, 1968, at Our Lady of the Cenacle Church in Richmond Hill and honeymooned in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.
In 1978, we moved to Merrick. We have four children and four grandchildren. One of our children was born with spina bifida as a result of John’s exposure to Agent Orange.
John retired in 1993 from the New York City Transit Authority as a construction flagman and then ran his own business, John Ball Construction, until 2003. I was an assistant teacher at St. Martin de Porres Marianist School in Uniondale and retired in 2002 as a substitute teacher.
John entered into the post-traumatic stress disorder program at Northport VA Medical Center in 1999. In 2005, he co-founded the PTSD Veterans Association of Northport to help other veterans. He received the Town of Hempstead Make a Difference Award and the Veterans Salute Medal in 2014. He is now trying to raise awareness and get funding to test Vietnam veterans for the liver fluke parasite.
We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in January with a family party and a second honeymoon in Oahu, Hawaii. We stayed at the military hotel, the Hale Koa, on Waikiki Beach. One morning I got a text about an impending missile attack, which later turned out to be a false alarm. In a panic, I woke John. He opened one eye and said, “If it’s so, we can knock them down in 20 seconds!” A Marine’s point of view!