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thedrifter
06-18-08, 12:04 PM
Reaching out: One Marine to another in a time of need
By Bill McClellan
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Wednesday, Jun. 18 2008

Tom Walter woke up one morning several years ago and noticed that the Marine
Corps flag that flew in front of his Kirkwood home was missing. He called the
police. Officer Tom Ballman was sent to take the report. It was like Frick
meeting Frack. There are former Marines who take the Marine Corps seriously,
and there are former Marines who take the Marine Corps very seriously. Walter
and Ballman both fall into that second category.

After the usual discussion of who served where and with what unit, Walter asked
Ballman if he played golf. Well, yes, he did. It so happened that Walter, a
senior vice president at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., had been for many years a
chairman of the local Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation golf tournament.
You'll have to play as my guest, said Walter.

That is how Cindy Ballman heard about Tom Walter.

"He came home talking about this great guy he met," Cindy said.

Cindy was not surprised that the guy was a former Marine. She first met her
future husband in 1996. He was just out of the service. In fact, he had joined
the Marine Corps two days after Christmas in 1991 and he got out the day after
Christmas in 1995. Four years minus a day.

She met him in an odd way. One of her friends went out with him on a blind
date, and part of that date involved going to Cindy's apartment for dinner.
Everybody sat around talking and Tom and Cindy realized that they had been at
Northeast Missouri State University — now Truman State — at the same time.
Cindy graduated. Tom left to join the Marine Corps.

After the dinner, Cindy's friend, Tom's date, suggested that Tom ask Cindy out.
Tom wasn't sure that was proper, so the friend told Cindy and suggested she
call Tom. She did.

They were married in 1999.

Did he ever talk about the Marine Corps? Cindy laughed and rolled her eyes when
I asked that question. He flew a Marine Corps flag outside their house. When
Cindy bought him presents, they were usually related to the Marine Corps —
books, old recruiting posters. He also played in a couple of the golf
tournaments that Walter helped organize.

Mostly, though, life was about family. Their first child, Joshua, was born in
May of 2002. Their second child, Rachel, was born in October of 2004. They were
members of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Ballwin.

Tom was shot and killed by Charles Lee Thornton during Thornton's murderous
rampage at Kirkwood City Hall in February.

The outpouring of support from the community was unbelievable, Cindy said.

"It was a blessing, and the Backstoppers have helped us out more than I can
say," she said. "I knew they helped families, but to the extent that they've
helped, I couldn't have guessed. "

From the golf tournaments, she knew that the Marine Corps had an organization
that helped children, but she said she thought that was just for kids of active
duty Marines. She thought that even though Will Haskell, one of Tom's
colleagues and a former Marine himself who helped fold the flag at Tom's
funeral, told her the organization was going to do something.

Actually, the old Scholarship Foundation had morphed into the Marine Corps Law
Enforcement Foundation, which was charged with providing scholarship money for
children of Marines and federal law enforcement personnel killed in the line of
duty. But the program was not restricted to that.

For instance, in the early days of the Iraq war, when the conventional wisdom
held that the war would be a short one, the foundation awarded scholarship
money to children of all American service members who were killed, regardless
of the branch in which they served. Scholarship money was even awarded to
children of some of our allies who were killed.

Since 1995, the organization has awarded more than $35 million in educational
grants to children.

"We have some flexibility," said Walter, who is a national director.

Last Monday, Walter presented Cindy with six $5,000 bonds for each child's
college education. That's $30,000 each.

By the way, they never did catch whoever it was who stole Walter's flag.

Ellie