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The ‘Ballard 18’ becomes the ‘Ballard 19’

Former student not yet honored on Vietnam War plaque

Jaya Flanary, Editor-and-Chief
Originally published February 29, 2016

(Left) Douglas Lee Zeller graduated in 1965. Zeller died in the Vietnam War during the Tet Offensive, but has yet to be honored on the school's memorial plaque. He has recently been recognized as the 19th BHS student to die in the Vietnam War. (Righ…

(Left) Douglas Lee Zeller graduated in 1965. Zeller died in the Vietnam War during the Tet Offensive, but has yet to be honored on the school’s memorial plaque. He has recently been recognized as the 19th BHS student to die in the Vietnam War. (Right) This plaque, located on the memorial wall in the foyer, honors 18 students who died serving in Vietnam.

Since 1967, the school’s memorial wall, located in the foyer, has included a plaque honoring the 18 graduated students who died serving in the Vietnam War. Jerry Smith, former student and Vietnam veteran, has been in the process of writing a book on the 18 students titled “The Ballard 18.”

Last weekend, Smith found a 19th BHS graduate who served and died in Vietnam. This boy, Douglas Lee Zeller, is not honored on the plaque in the school, and was yet to be a part of Smith’s book.

Smith first found out about Zeller from family members of a boy from the Ballard 18. While looking through Smith’s book “The Ballard Eighteen” before being sent to publishing, Tom and Dianne Riordan, family of U.S. Navy sailor John Michael Riordan (class of ‘62), noticed Zeller wasn’t included.

“I would have no way of knowing, without a name, to do the research. So I said, ‘Let me do some reseach and I’ll get back to you,’” Smith said. “So then on Sunday I got up and I started doing research, and low and behold, Douglas Lee Zeller is listed on the Vietnam wall.

Zeller, who was with the 19th engineer battalion, was killed on March 19, 1968 during the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive, beginning on January 30, 1968, was a military campaign of surprise attacks launched by the Viet Cong against South Vietnam and allies. 

“He was an engineer and his work assignment in Vietnam was working on the major highways,” Smith said. “He was either road building or bridge building, I don’t know the specifics. I know he was killed by a hand grenade during Tet, one of the Viet Cong probably threw it at the guys while they were working somewhere. So that’s kind of sad. But that’s all I know right now.”

Smith graduated a year after Zeller, in 1966, so Smith went through his old yearbooks to find the boy’s school photo. He also made a visit to the BHS library to search through old editions of the Talisman. Last year, during his research, Smith was visiting the library almost every Wednesday to go through old newspapers, but had never come acrossed the name Doug Zeller. 

Finding a 19th student changes a lot for Smith — not only did he have to add a 19th chapter to his book, and re-title it, he also had to fix some of the book’s commentary. Originally, Smith had noticed a pattern within the community relating to the number 18, such as the Ballard metro bus system number and fire station number. “I spent about eight hours changing everything back to 19,” Smith said.

Smith has not located any of Zeller’s family members, though he does know the boy had many older brothers, so he’s hoping to get in contact with as many as he can. Librarian Marianne Baker is in communication with the alumni association and Smith is trying to reach out to community members via Facebook. In addition, he contacted the Seattle Public School Archives to obtain Zeller’s school transcripts like he did with the other 18. School transcripts help Smith with dates and names of parents and siblings.

Last Wednesday, Smith’s research within old Talismans didn’t give him a lot of information about Zeller, other than him being in ASB and Boys Club. “He just was somebody that kind of hid in the shadows I guess,” Smith said. “So there was nothing. Page by page, looking through [for] his name. The good thing is I found some more things I had missed with the other 18, so I got a list of 12 more items that have to go in [the book]. So it wasn’t a waste.”

This Wednesday, Smith is visiting the library at the University of Washington to go through the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Ballard News-Tribune and the Tacoma News-Tribune. “Tacoma was one of the papers that was very good at covering the Vietnam War as opposed to some of the others,” Smith said.

Not only is Smith adding a Zeller chapter to his book, he is also planning on getting Zeller’s name added to the school’s memorial plaque, which Principal Keven Wynkoop supports. “I can’t find fault in anybody because when they put the original plaque together in 1967, we didn’t have internet,” Smith said. “People didn’t have it yet, military did. So there was no way to look anything up, everything was done by U.S. mail or a telephone call . . . Because he was like a ghost at Ballard High School, people didn’t pick up on it, I think. It’s sad.”

Since Smith has to go back to the same resources to do more research, he expects his book, now titled “The Ballard Nineteen,” to be ready to send to a publisher by the end of summer. “Or sooner,” Smith said. “It just depends, I’ll see how fast I can get through this and hope that there isn’t a 20th.”

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The ‘Ballard 18’ becomes the ‘Ballard 19’