Bernard J. Ball was born on Sept. 12, 1922, to Teresa V. and Joseph A. Ball, he attended Rye schools. He had three sisters Gertrude, Dora, Sophia and a brother Cornelius. In Rye his family lived at 7 Hillcrest Lane and were members of the Church of the Resurrection. Bernard was a Rye High School Graduate, Class of 1941. He enlisted and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
Bernard J. Ball was on a postgraduate year after graduating from Rye High School when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He enlisted immediately, joining the Army Air Corps. on December 13, 1941, in New York City, New York. He was 19 years old. Six months later he was a radio gunner on Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers, stationed with the RAF in Bournemouth, England. Wounded three times, he was cited for heroism, receiving the Silver Star, Bronze Star, American and British Distinguished Service Crosses, the French Croix de Guerre and three Purple Hearts.
Corp, Ball Home from Battlefields
Andy Ball said he will never forget a brief conversation he had with Mr. Ball, his second cousin, on Memorial Day 2004.
"The firemen had finished their early morning remembrance, and I joined my father and Bernie in the firehouse where they were killing time prior to heading over to the Village Green for the official City ceremony. It was a hot day, and tough for an 81-year-old ex-chief in a dress blue uniform. With plenty of time to chat on our short, but slow, walk, I asked Bernie about his wartime experience. He hesitated a minute, then said in that soft voice of his, "Eight of 250". A few steps later I asked him to explain. "When we started, there were 250 of us. When we finished, there were eight. Im one of the eight", he explained. That was it. A simple, blunt reference to the horrific mortality rate his bomber squadron experienced. What he and his crew mates went through over France, Tunisia, Italy, Germany, and Yugoslavia is mind-boggling. I suspect that flying one daylight bombing mission far beyond fighter escort range over heavily defended targets would have been sheer terror. Bernie did it over 90 times, cheating death on numerous occasions. Sixty years later, his time finally came."
After the war, Mr. Ball attended Auburn University in Alabama on a football scholarship. He told The Rye Record in an interview that he regretted not having graduated. ''I got mad and left.'' He returned home and soon went to work as a car salesman at Rye Ford, where he was a fixture until the 1970s.
A longtime volunteer fireman, Mr. Ball was elected as a Fire Chief of the Engine Company in 1958. He served a six-year term, the last two as First Chief. Rye Fire Chief John Wickham said of Mr. Ball, ''In addition to being one of the nicest men I've ever known, Bernie was truly devoted to the life of service, first the military, then the fire department.'' He added, ''When the Locust Avenue Headquarters was open, Bernie would stop first at Poppy's Cafe to have breakfast, regaling friends and other customers with his stories, before checking in at the Firehouse.''
Bernie gave a name to the group of friends who gathered at Poppy's, ''Old Men in the Back.'' Tom Fendler, Coby Ellingwood and Bob Sawyer were among the unofficial members. ''He made friends easily,'' said Mr. Sawyer. One of the many stories that typifies Mr. Ball's courage and sense of duty is the time he was on an American Airlines flight back from St. Croix. The plane caught on fire and had to make an emergency landing. Mr. Ball calmly started helping the passengers get off in an orderly fashion. When he got off, he fell. One of the flight attendants who helped him up realized he was blind in one eye and looked at him with amazement. American Airlines sent Mr. Ball a letter of commendation.
It was on a trip to Florida in 1986 that Mr. Ball met Leigh Porter, who would become his second wife. They were married March 17, 1990. ''Bernie was an incredible guy,'' said Leigh Ball. ''We spent many of our 17 years together island hopping, sailing, reading.''
From 1985 to 2003 the Balls lived most of the year in St. Croix. Mr. Ball worked part-time for General Refrigeration, known as ''The Icehouse,'' because it supplied ice for the entire island. An animal lover, he volunteered at the local animal shelter. ''He must have shipped 15 stray dogs home with tourists,'' said Mrs. Ball. Mr. Ball made frequent trips back to New York for hospital visits and operations because of his war wounds.
In 2003, Mr. Ball and his wife returned to Rye for good.
Bernard J. Ball, known to all as Bernie, died of complications from surgery at Greenwich Hospital Feb. 24, 2007. He was 84.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Ball is survived by two sons, Tim and Michael; four grandchildren, Allison, Brendan, Samantha and Katrina, and numerous nephews and nieces. Funeral services were held March 3, 2007 at Resurrection Church.
''With his passing, our family, our town, and our country have lost a man that exemplified the highest conceivable standards of duty, honor, and sacrifice. Old Bernie will be dearly missed,'' said Andy Ball, speaking for many.