Gary Allen Ball
Gary Ball’s information has been provided by his best friend, Mac Staples:
CAPTAIN GARY BALL, (USAF, RET)
I will record as many facts as I know about Gary. He was a truly unique individual; highly intelligent, an unbelievable memory and terrific insight into life and duty.
Gary was born October 5, 1938, in Nebraska (I am unsure of the town, but it was a small town in a rural area). Shortly after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force. He showed some facility for languages, (always did: he and his wife Nori often communicate in Latvian) and was sent to language schools to learn Albanian. As he was about to graduate from language school, he realized his assignment would be to Brindisi, Italy, listening to Albanian radio for hours a day. That future holding no appeal for him, he went to his commander and announced he was getting married. Commander: “You’re marrying a U.S. citizen, right.” Gary: “No.” Commander: “She’s not from a communist country is she?” Gary: “Yes.” As you can imagine, Gary’s projected assignment disappeared. He then and served some time as a base ops kind of guy.
Encouraged to go to Officer Training by his commander, he applied for, and was accepted, as a cadet in Navigator training. Upon graduation and commissioning, he was assigned to a RB-57F (long wing) squadron at Albuquerque, NM, and spent many deployments to bases worldwide. Here is a picture of Gary’s RB-57F taken by his wingman as they were doing air sampling after a nuclear test at Frenchman’s Flat, Nevada.
After a few years of this, Gary applied for Air Force pilot training (he had been a civilian pilot for years). He graduated from pilot training in May, 1967 and was assigned to the F-100.
I met Gary at Cannon AFB, NM, in the Summer of 1967. We did not immediately become fast friends, but we both were assigned to Phan Rang AB, Viet Nam where we were roommates. Over the year there, our friendship was cemented and we became dear, lifelong friends. I think next, I should relate a few or the stories of that tour.
Gary arrived in Viet Nam a few weeks before I did, and during Tet of ’68, so the first tale is as I recall his narration. He had a very short combat checkout, and one of his first combat sorties entailed bombing high-rise buildings in downtown Saigon at night. Sort of a scary mission for that early in your tour.
Next is one of my favorite stories about Gary: We were scheduled to go on alert together, but when I awoke about an hour before we were to be on duty, there was nobody in the upper bunk. I went ahead and showered and shaved and as I was zipping up my flight suit, Gary walked in the room in civvies. When I asked where the hell he had been, he said, “Playing poker.” When I reminded him that we were supposed to be on alert in half an hour, he said that was no problem, that no-one had been scrambled off alert in several days, and he was going to bunk out for the day. Well, as we rode to the squadron to get our gear and go on alert, we flipped a coin to see who would be flight lead—Gary won. As I was moving a little faster than Gary, I completed my preflight and was just walking in the alert shack when we were scrambled. I began running toward my airplane while Gary was just walking in from his preflight. When he saw me his eyes, which had been at half-mast, became suddenly huge, and he said, “You gotta be shittin’ me!” When I assured him that I was not, he turned around and began running toward his own airplane. After about ten steps he stopped, turned back around, and said, “Mac, you got the lead.” Well to make a long story much shorter, when we got back from that mission, we already had planes loaded for another, then the same thing happened again. We had three combat missions (the Wing limit) by about noon. I didn’t see Gary until the next morning!
Very late in his tour, Gary was on a mission which entailed dropping napalm into the setting sun in a smoky combat environment. Gary always did have a penchant for flying low, and in the situation, he happened to find a tree down in that smoke. He didn’t do much damage to the airplane, but he did rip open a napalm can. He was concerned about setting himself on fire if he fired the release cartridge, so he landed with the nape (at Bien Hoa). I saw a picture of the airplane; it looked like it had 750 pounds of jelly smeared in the gear well, the underside of the wing, and the stabilizer.
As a result of this incident, the Wing powers allowed that they would let Gary fly one more (fini) flight, but it had to be in an F-model with an IP in the back seat, and he couldn’t go below 3,000 feet.
At this time Gary had nearly every certificate awarded by the FAA (except perhaps Balloon Instructor). but he didn’t have a helicopter license. Since he still had a couple of weeks on his tour, and he knew some Army guys at Phan Thiet, he decided he would go down there and log enough helicopter time to get an FAA ticket. Took him less than 24 hours to get shot down! He actually saw the guy who was shooting at them with an AK-47, but they were able to get safely away before their forced landing.
Okay, Gary ended his tour in Viet Nam, and was assigned to Woodbridge, England. He (the squadron) continued to fly the Hun for a year or so, although the last several months consisted of no mission, just go get flying time (Fly for fun! I could stand some of that!), One incident occurred during this time that bears relating: Gary took off from Woodbridge, got to about 10.000 feet, and his engine quit. Everybody who has flown over England when the weather allows, know that there are literally thousands of WWII runways all over the island. Gary picked one and dead-sticked on it, only to find it was being used by local farmers to store barrels of something. The airplane was pretty beat up, but he still got a “Well Done” from USAFE.
Next was F-111 school in Vegas, then a move to Upper Heyford and an F-111 squadron. One quick story from there: there was a heavy tax on Scotch Whiskey in the UK, so Gary asked me to bring him a case from the Class 6 store in Spain, where that tax didn’t exist. I bought a case, but at the last minute, dropped out of the planned cross-country. I entrusted the case to a friend whose plans included a stop in Bentwaters, then log some time and end up at Upper Heyford. Well, he got a BLC light departing Bentwaters, and immediately landed. He left the case in Base Ops, and took off for London. I notified Gary, who drove over to Bentwaters. Standing over his case of whiskey was a British Customs Officer. Gary paid the tax, and saved no money on my favor!
Gary was then assigned to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. For some reason, he was appointed to be in charge of Saylor Creek Range, which is south of Mt. Home in northern Nevada. One day his crew collected all the unexpended ordnance and burned it. Unfortunately, the wind that day was strong, and they burned up half of northern Nevada. I think Gary took a real hit from this incident, and was passed over for major more than once.
He ended his Air Force career as the base Ops Officer at Mt Home. He finally came out on the major’s list, but he had already made the decision to retire, and turned down the promotion.
He moved back to Nebraska, and flew for several years for a company whose name I do not recall but they made seats for Ford automobiles. At some time he moved to Couer De Alene, Idaho. After a few years, he sold his home in Couer De Alene and moved to the small mining town of Wallace, where he bought a home which was on the list of historic homes. As always, he made many improvements on his home, but after a few years, he was on vacation in Nebraska when Nori was stricken with some medical emergency. While she was still hospitalized he returned to Idaho, sold his home, and moved to Nebraska. He was there ever since.
Bottom line: Gary was an unusual character and a dear friend.
Gary A. Ball (MAJ USAF) “Headed West” on July 20, 2021.
Gary A. Ball was born October 5, 1938, in Culbertson, Nebraska on the farm to Kenneth and Ethel (Breitling) Ball. The second of seven children, they moved to Bertrand, Nebraska in 1944. He graduated from Bertrand High School in 1956. Gary enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1959 and served for 20 years.
Basic training was at Lackland AFB, and from there he attended numerous trainings/schools in National Security, languages and field ops. He graduated in 1962 as 2nd Lieutenant and was assigned to Kirtland AFB, where his time there included survival training schools and preparation for Pilot school at Vance AFB. In 1964, he was selected and trained as one of only 18 pilots in the Nation to fly the Elite RF-57F high altitude airplanes.
He was deployed to Vietnam in 1968 where he flew 284 successful combat missions in the F-100 Super Sabre, and was awarded medals in Meritorious Service, Extraordinary Achievement and Heroism. The family was then stationed at Woodbridge AFB and Upper Heyford AFB, in England, where he began flying F-111’s, ending at Mountain Home AFB where he was Head of Disaster Preparedness. He was Honorably discharged in 1979 with the rank of Captain. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics Business Admin. in 1974, followed by his Master of Science Degree at University of Northern Colorado in 1979.
Gary was united in marriage to the love of his life, Nora Skarnelis on August 12, 1962. To this union three children were born- Lija, Andra and Loren. After retirement, the family lived in the States of Idaho, Indiana and back to Nebraska in 1983. He worked as a pilot for Mountain West Airlines, Columbus Air Services and Douglas & Lomason. In 1997 Nora and him Re-retired to Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, then moving back to Columbus, Nebraska in 2011.
Gary enjoyed spending time with family and friends; reading and researching everything; tinkering with computers and cars; his favorite foods Escargot, Chicken & Dumplings and homemade cookies his daughters spoiled him with; spending time with his beloved cat Charlie; telling amazing stories, and being a member of the Sky Roamers club. He was a character not to forget. Period.
Gary is survived by:
Wife – Nora Ball of Columbus, NE
Mother – Ethel Ball of Bertrand, NE
Daughter – Lija (Doug) Pittman of Coyle, WA
Daughter – Andra (Hayden) Eilers of Columbus, NE
Five Grandchildren – Ashley Eilers, Shane Leathers, Clayton (Cecelia) Eilers, Jonah Henness and Kelsey Rehrmann.
Six Great Grandchildren – Isaiah Eilers, Talon Eilers, Lyric Leathers, Serenity Shelton, Taylor Shelton and Kiedis Gronenthal.
Siblings – Norman (Edelia) Ball, Sharon Johnson, Sheila Seyfried, Richard (Lisa) Ball and Shelly Ball.
Numerous nephews, nieces and cousins.
Gary was preceded in death by:
Son – Loren Ball
Father – Kenneth Ball
Sister – Shirley Forster
Brother-in-law – Gary Johnson
A Celebration of Life for family and friends will be held on July 29, 2021 at Henry on 11th, 2521 11th St., Columbus, NE, from 3:00 – 8:00pm, open-house. Military honors by the American Legion Hartman Post 84 Honor Guard. Memorials may be given to V.A. Veterans Home.
To read more about Gary see his bio page at Ball, Gary A. | Super Sabre Society
- 1959 enlisted USAF
- Basic Training, Lackland AFB,
- 1962 Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant
- Kirtland AFB
- 1964 Pilot Training, Vance AFB
- B-57 Squadron, Albuquerque, NM
- 5/1967 Pilot Training, Cannon AFB, NM (F-100)
- 1968 522th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Phan Rang, AB, Vietnam (F-100)
- 352th Tactical Fighter Squadron (F-111)
- 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron
- Head of Disaster Preparedness, Mountain Home AFB
Awards & Decorations
Military & Civilian Education
- 1956 Bertrand High School, NE
- 1974 BA/Economics & Business Administration, Indiana University
- 1979 MS, University of Northern Colorado