Kumiko Miyamoto Ballard, 86, grew up in war-torn Japan and made a life in the U.S.

Posted: November 14, 2013

KUMIKO MIYAMOTO grew up in a world torn apart by bombs and racked by poverty.

Her childhood was spent in Osaka, Japan, during World War II, and it became a target of American bombing raids. When she was evacuated to the countryside, she was exposed to hunger so intense, she remembered seeing people eating grass.

But after the war, she met and married an American soldier, came to the U.S. in 1952, and lived the rest of her life as an American wife, mother and government worker.

Kumiko Miyamoto Ballard, as she became after marrying Frederick Paul Ballard, worked for 25 years for the federal government in Washington, D.C., was a skilled seamstress who made clothes for herself and her daughter, a woman who charmed everyone with her sweet disposition, died Friday of cancer. She was 86 and lived in Roxborough.

"She was incredibly charming and sweet," said her daughter, Loraine Ballard Morrill, director of news and community affairs for Clear Channel's six Philadelphia radio stations.

"She charmed the pants off people," Loraine said. "She was very adorable. Kids just loved my Mom."

In fact, Kumiko had a magical way with children. Loraine told about her experience in third grade when a boy was bullying her.

"Mom met him after school and spoke to him," Loraine said. "I don't know what she said to him, but he became my best friend. It was like a miracle.

"Years later, I asked her what she said to the boy, and she couldn't remember. But it was like her to do stuff like that."

Kumiko's future husband was a master sergeant assigned to the occupation forces in Japan after the war. Kumiko had learned enough English to get a job with the Army, where she met Ballard.

He fell hard for her, but when he asked her to marry him, she said no.

Ballard, who had seen combat in the European Theater in World War II, went off to fight in the Korean War. He won a Bronze Star for valor, then returned to Japan. Again, he popped the question, and this time Kumiko said yes.

Ballard remained in the Army after the couple came to the U.S., and they were stationed at various bases. Their daughter was born the year they arrived in the U.S., and Kumiko devoted herself to being a housewife and mother.

Ballard spent 36 years in the military. He died in 1989.

When the family arrived in the Washington, D.C., area, Kumiko worked for the Census Bureau, Naval Intelligence and the War College.

Loraine said her mother was a great raconteur, and usually had a story for her at bedtime. Many were about her childhood in war-torn Japan, but some were also folk tales.

Kumiko told about the time she got tired of all the air-raid sirens and trips to shelters and decided to stay home. A bomb landed near her house, and she thought better of that decision.

She related how young people were drafted into the workforce, and she was sent to a factory to do a job she hated. She finally decided she couldn't take it any longer, quit and walked home. A few days later, the factory was destroyed in a bombing raid.

Loraine said her mother learned English in her high school in Japan, but she continued trying to perfect her fluency. She took courses in English and writing.

Japanese have trouble pronouncing l's and r's in English, so she practiced with sentences like, "Hand me a glass of water," without "glass" sounding like "grass." Another tricky one was pronouncing the word "lollipop."

When Kumiko went to get her American citizenship while living in Tacoma, Wash., she poured over books about American history and government.

"She knew more about American history than most Americans," Loraine said.

The day she took her test was July 3, and she was ready for a barrage of questions. Instead, there was only one question, "What is tomorrow?"

Kumiko's skill with needle and thread was legendary. When Loraine joined the Girl Scouts, her mother made her uniform. "It was better than the store-bought ones," Loraine said.

"She was a strong woman," her daughter said. "She had to be to come from a culture so very different from ours. But she was loved by everyone who ever met her."

Besides her daughter, she is survived by a sister, Memiko Miyamoto. She was predeceased by two other sisters, Sumiko and Hiroshi Miyamoto.

Services: A private memorial service will be held. Donations in her memory may be made to Public Citizens for Children and Youth, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia 19103.

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