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Stories of Giving

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POW remembered with marching band music

Attending Appleton’s Flag Day Parade was a big deal for  Robert and Sis Balliet and their family, dating back to the 1950s.

“It was something that Mom would put on the family calendar and we would all look forward to parade day,” said their son, Dan. “We each had our own duties for what to bring.”

One of the highlights would be when a marching band played the U.S. Air Force song.

Robert flew on B-24s as a radio operator and gunner during World War II. His plane was shot down near Zagreb, Yugoslavia, in 1944. He spent nearly a year as a German prisoner of war and took part in the infamous Black March ­– 86 days of POWs being forced to march through northern Europe ahead of the advancing Russian troops in the winter of 1945. British soldiers liberated the marchers on May 2.

The next time a band plays that song in front of the reviewing stand on College Avenue, it might be thanks to the Robert M. Balliet Memorial Fund within the Community Foundation.

Created by Dan and his sisters Laura Tucker and Bobbi Mullen following Robert’s death Nov. 13, 2012, the fund is a permanent endowment that will use investment gains and future contributions to pay the expenses of marching bands playing in the Flag Day Parade for as long as people pack the parade route. Family members added to memorials from Robert’s funeral to reach the $10,000 needed before a fund can begin making grants. One family member was able to increase her contribution with a matching grant from her employer, Thrivent Financial.  Currently, up to 5% of the fund’s assets can be awarded each year as a grant to pay for a band.

A separate fund estalished after Sis died Jan. 20, 2009, honors the former teacher by paying for science supplies and resources for elementary and middle school classes in the Francis Xavier Catholic School System.

Marching bands are harder to come by for the Flag Day Committee, of which Dan is a member. Schools are asking for travel, lodging and food costs to be reimbursed. Some college bands charge as much as $100 per day per person.

“A parade needs music,” Dan said flatly.

His father, who marched under the threat of his captors’ cruelty, no doubt would be pleased to have his name forever associated with marching of a much more civilized kind.

Anyone can give in any amount to the Robert M. Balliet Memorial Fund to support marching bands in the Flag Day Parade.