by Valerie Balester
The memoirs of Corporal Fred J. Balester, first written sometime between 1988 and 1995 for the five Balester children, ostensibly as letters to the youngest son, Marc. Daughter, Valerie Balester shares them here in hopes the Balester children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will honor their memory and enjoy this brief but important episode in their personal history. It is dedicated to the Marines who fought on Guadalcanal, especially those of the First Division and the First Scout Company. We remember you. We thank you.
On December 8, 1941, Fred Balester, Jr., seventeen years old and in his first year at Bucknell Junior College in his home town of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, rushed off to join the Army Air Corps. He wanted to learn to fly, and, as he put it "was bitterly disappointed to learn that one had to be 21 years old and have 2 years of college to qualify for flight training in either the Army or the Navy. They of course wanted to enlist me in the regular Army, but I got even. I joined the Marines." He was assigned to Platoon #180 at boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina in January 1942. In response to a dire need for troops in the Pacific, training had been shortened from three months to about a month and a half. Balester found himself in Tent City, New River, North Carolina in February. When asked what outfit he would like to join, he replied, thinking of James Fennimore Cooper, that he would like to be a scout. At the time the First Tank Company was being transformed into the First Scout Company. That, and some good marksmanship, is how Balester became a scout/sniper.
On August 7, 1942, Balester landed with the First Division on Guadalcanal. He writes: "Since our Scout Platoon had no specific role in the initial assault, we were to stay aboard as a work party and help unload the ship. And work we did. All of this stuff was urgently needed ashore and the sound of bombs kept us moving." The scout cars (light tanks) were never unloaded, so the Scout Company, which was meant to be the advance party for the tanks, were instead attached to line regiments. The First Scouts were attached to the First Marine Division. Balester was creative with his duty assignments: "We were supposed to rotate. One day we would be on patrol and the following day on guard duty. A friend of mine was deathly afraid of the jungle, and I had trouble coping with the monotony of guard duty. So we made a deal. Whenever he was posted for patrol duty I took his place. He took all of my assigned guard duty. Since I was on patrol almost every day, I probably knew that sector better than anyone else in the division." Balester was point on 60-70 scout missions and was dubbed "Snowshoes" for his delicate and stealthy step. Like all the Marines, he contracted malaria and faced near starvation until relief came on December 7, 1942.
Balester ended up in Melbourne, Australia. There, in Flinders Street Station on the way back to camp, he met Alison McLeod-Sharpe, a young girl from the suburb of Mentone who was working in the War Department. They dated for 8 weeks, and began a long correspondence.
After a short stay at Goodenough Island, where Balester was promoted to corporal, the First Scout Company joined the First Marines in New Britain, Cape Gloucester. Balester continued his scouting, this time suffering in the murky, wet climate with jungle rot. His photo appeared in George McMillan's The Old Breed, page 169, leading a party on the day of the landing. He stayed on New Britain until April of 1994. Although he hoped the next stop would be Melbourne, he ended up on the tiny island of Parvuvu. Within a few months, he became so ill with kidney infection that he was shipped back to Oak Knoll hospital in San Francisco and later transferred to the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. He was discharged in March of 1945.
In October of 1946, Alison (also called Dawne) found passage on the S. S. Monterey to San Francisco. Balester had posted a $500 bond to bring his "war bride" to the States. She arrived in November, and a week later the two were married. They had five children, and remain married to this day.
Corporal Fred Balester Cape Gloucester, 1944
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