Kenneth Michael Ballard loved being a soldier.
His father and grandfather had served in the military, and Ballard was born at an Air Force base in Upstate New York. He enlisted in the Army after high school, serving in Bosnia and Macedonia before going to Iraq.
On May 30, Army 1st Lt. Ballard, 26, of Mountain View, Calif., died doing what he loved. He was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Najaf, Iraq. And yesterday, his ashes were laid to rest in a somber ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
"What more can a mother ask for than for her child to be happy?'' Ballard's mother, Karen Meredith, said at a memorial service for her son in California in June. "I know you were happy being a soldier. To know that you were killed doing what you loved makes it all the more poignant. You were always my hero, and now you are an American hero.''
Meredith's comments were posted on a Web site she maintained that featured photos from Ballard's time in Iraq and comments from well-wishers. After he died, it became a memorial and was flooded with condolences.
Meredith did not respond to messages that Army public affairs officers said they left with her yesterday. But she was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in June that her son had initially been scheduled to return from Iraq eight days before he died but that his stay had been extended.
Meredith joined about 30 other family members and Army officials yesterday for a short graveside service.
After an Army firing squad saluted Ballard by firing 21 rounds and a bugler played taps, Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee presented the soldier's mother with the U.S. flag that accompanied his ashes. He also gave her two Bronze Stars that Ballard was awarded for valor.
Ballard's ashes, which were in a brown urn, were to be buried in Section 60, next to the graves of other soldiers killed in recent action, including two whose tombstone said they had died when an aircraft was downed in Iraq in April.
Most soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan and buried at Arlington have been laid to rest in the same section, said Sgt. 1st Class James Campbell, spokesman for the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. Ballard was the 89th soldier killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington, Campbell said.
Ballard, whose family said he had served in Iraq for a little more than a year, had been assigned to the Germany-based 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. The Army had said in June that Ballard's death was under investigation, but Army officials said yesterday they could provide no additional details.
Ballard's death came on a day of smoldering violence in southern Iraq, during which U.S. soldiers clashed with Shiite gunmen in Najaf, shaking a tentative ceasefire with militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Comments posted on Ballard's mother's Web site by friends and relatives described a fun-loving man who was very close to his family and loved serving in the military.
In a speech at the memorial service in June, Ballard's father, Thomas Ballard, praised his son's service and sacrifice.
"After September 11, no one could have foreseen the profound effects it would have on the world, not to mention our lives today,'' he said. "Ken, you will always be in our hearts and in our prayers. I love you, son, and I salute you.''
Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.