Almanac: Ball and change — Archaeological dig invites speculation about man’s history

Editor’s note: Sometimes journalists learn much more about a subject after they’ve written all they thought they knew. Such was the case with our story of Arlon “Jackson” Ball, who was gunned down in a North Kenai cocktail lounge in October 1968. In October 2012, the Redoubt Reporter presented the tale of his murder, but in subsequent weeks new information came to light. Following is a brief summary of that original tale, including corrections where necessary, plus what is known so far of the rest of the story.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

In the early morning of Saturday, Oct. 12, 1968, in Larry’s Club, Arlon “Jackson” Ball was shot and killed during a bar brawl. The gunman was Jerry Edwards, who was incensed because he believed that Ball had harmed his brother, Larry Edwards.

According to the Cheechako News, Ball was 46 years old when he was killed. According to the online Social Security Death Index, however, he had been born on Aug. 24, 1921, which meant that he was 47. A photograph of the headstone on his grave in Angelus Memorial Park in Anchorage shows that he was born on Aug. 25, 1922, so the newspaper was correct.

Ball was a complex man whose personality generated a variety of reactions. Most who knew him or knew of him would be likely to mention Ball’s penchant for drinking in bars, for talking loud and rough, and for his streak of bigotry.

Soldotna’s Al Hershberger, who knew Ball, said that Ball’s aggressive talk was “definitely more bark than bite,” but he admitted that Ball could be mean and had a low tolerance for people with an ethnicity different than his own. “I think his notoriety was somewhat embellished,” Hershberger said. “I did enjoy talking to him, as he always made me laugh. He definitely was opinionated. I guess it would be fair to call him a bigot, or at least very outspoken and vociferous. A lot of people thought of Jackson as more of a clown than a terrorist.”

According to an obituary in the Cheechako, Arlon Elwood Ball, who was born in Connecticut and lived for a time in Rhode Island, had been a member of Pile Driver’s Local No. 2502 and was survived by a wife and four young daughters, all of whom apparently lived in Anchorage. Ball, the paper said, was an Anchorage resident who had a North Kenai homestead near Salamatof Lake and was the owner/operator of the fishing vessel Iron Mule.

The rest of the story

In Niantic, Conn., in 2008 — 40 years after the shooting at Larry’s Club — an archaeological team of seniors from East Lyme High School was searching for evidence of a 19th century blacksmith shop. As the students excavated, they came across many artifacts — old tools, bottles, nails, etc. — that appeared to be from the mid-1900s, and nothing related to the blacksmith shop. But there were several curiosities, including an oval medallion depicting Jesus, a small brass shield bearing the images of a swastika and a German monument, and a World War II-era sweetheart bracelet.

Sweetheart bracelets, which soldiers would purchase or make for their love interests back home during wartime, were in vogue during World War II. The wife or girlfriend of a serviceman would wear her man’s dog-tag information on a sterling silver chain while he was gone overseas. The bracelet found by the East Lyme students bore the name “Arlon E. Ball” and his Army serial number, 20155871.

Information about the discovery was published in The Post Review in December 2009 by East Lyme anthropology teacher James Littlefield. One year later, Christine Durkee, writing in the East Lyme student newspaper, The Viking Saga, updated the tale, and in 2012 Al Hershberger in Soldotna found both stories online and brought them to the attention of the Redoubt Reporter.

According to Durkee’s story, Littlefield’s article generated new information and, much to the students’ surprise, the attention of one of Ball’s daughters, Margaret Ball, who happened to be living in Connecticut. Margaret Ball sent a letter to Littlefield, explaining how little she knew about her father’s military career and enclosing a photograph of Arlon in uniform.

Pvt. 1st Class Arlon Elwood Ball had been an Army soldier well decorated for his

Photos courtesy of James Littlefield. Arlon Ball in his military uniform, long before he was shot and killed in a bar brawl in Kenai in 1968.

Photos courtesy of James Littlefield. Arlon Ball in his military uniform, long before he was shot and killed in a bar brawl in Kenai in 1968.

achievements. Part of an elite unit, the 101st Airborne (also known as the Screaming Eagles), he had won several notable awards.

“This guy was in some pretty serious action,” said Littlefield. “He was not just pushing a pencil somewhere.”

According to military records, 21-year-old Arlon Ball enlisted on Sept. 16, 1940. As a civilian he had earned only a grammar school education and was considered a farmhand. As a soldier, he became a member of the Coast Artillery Corps or Mine Planter Service, and during the two and a half years he served overseas he was involved in some intense fighting.

When he was photographed in uniform during his discharge, his many military accomplishments were on display. On his left shoulder was a patch for the Screaming Eagles. On his right breast above the pocket was a patch nicknamed the “ruptured duck,” which was sewn onto the uniforms of WWII veterans who were honorably discharged. The patch allowed such soldiers to wear their uniforms for 30 days after discharge. They were also given a small lapel pin to wear on civilian clothes.

Below the “ruptured duck” patch was a Presidential Unit Citation pin, awarded by the

A Ruptured Duck patch, like to the one Arlon Ball wore, denoted World War II veterans who were honorably discharged.

A Ruptured Duck patch, like to the one Arlon Ball wore, denoted World War II veterans who were honorably discharged.

president for distinguished action by the soldier’s unit, usually a regiment but sometimes a battalion or even an entire company.

On his left breast were his paratroopers wings, awarded after a specific number of qualified jumps. Below the wings was a strip of ribbons that represented other medals earned by Ball, including an award for good conduct, the WWII Victory Medal, and the European African Middle East Campaign Medal.

According to Hershberger, the two stars on the campaign medal indicate the number of battles in which Ball fought. In the monochrome photograph, it is difficult to distinguish the color of the medals, but Hershberger said a bronze star indicates a single battle, while a silver star indicates five battles. Based on his knowledge of the history of the 101st Airborne — Hershberger also served in the military in Europe in WWII — he believes that Ball likely earned one bronze star and one silver star.

The pin below the ribbons is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, awarded after 30 days of infantry combat.

In the photograph, Ball was also wearing a wedding ring.

As for the sweetheart bracelet, sometime after Durkee’s article in The Viking Saga, Littlefield and Margaret Ball arranged to meet for breakfast and conversation at a Friendly’s Restaurant in Mystic, Conn. They shared information, and Littlefield presented the daughter with the bracelet, which she donned for a photograph.

According to Margaret, after her father was killed in North Kenai, her mother and all

Margaret Ball, Arlon Ball’s daughter, poses with a bracelet of her father’s, with Jim Littlefield, who led an archaeological dig in Niantic, Conn., in which the bracelet and other items belonging to Ball were found.

Margaret Ball, Arlon Ball’s daughter, poses with a bracelet of her father’s, with Jim Littlefield, who led an archaeological dig in Niantic, Conn., in which the bracelet and other items belonging to Ball were found.

the daughters left their furniture and most of their belongings and returned to Connecticut to live. Littlefield said that Margaret remembered her father fondly and had wondered for decades what he had really been like.

“She told me she frequently went online with her sister to find out about her enigmatic, war-hero father they loved dearly,” Littlefield said.

More than a month after appearance of the first Redoubt Reporter story about Ball, another of Arlon’s daughters, Kayleen (Ball) Hanrahan, made an effort to learn more. In a postscript to an email to the newspaper, she wrote: “My dad named me Kayleen. My older sister named her son Arlon. My older sister named her older son’s middle name Jackson, and I named my son’s middle name Elwood after my father’s middle name. I know my father loved my mother and all of his daughters very much. I also know there is much to be learned about who my father really was.”

Although the bracelet had never belonged to Arlon Ball’s wife, its recipient, its connection (if any) to the Jesus medallion and the swastika shield, and the reason for its burial out in Niantic remain a mystery.

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