AMM2c Frank Balsley, (1921-)
Veteran, USS Saratoga, Guadalcanal, and other Pacific battles
Frank grew up in Gardena, California. His father was a butcher and owned a small grocery store. Many of his friends in high school were Japanese-Americans, and he liked them all. From an early age, he loved golf, and began caddying at thirteen. A graduate of Compton Junior College, he was married at twenty. Prior to joining the Navy, he worked at North American Aviation, hanging turrets on the fuselages of B-25 bombers.
He was on his way to the golf course on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Ordered to Hawaii, he joined Torpedo Eight right after the Battle of Midway. While aboard the Saratoga, he flew as a gunner with Gene Hanson during the squadron’s successful attack on the Japanese carrier Ryujo, which was sunk on August 24, 1942. At Guadalcanal, he flew a number of extremely hazardous missions up the “groove” to sink Japanese warships that were part of the “Tokyo Express.”
After returning to San Diego aboard the Kitty Hawk, Frank’s goal was to follow in the footsteps of Darrel Woodside, Red Doggett, and Bill Dye, and become an enlisted navy pilot. He applied for flight training and was accepted into the program.
After winning his wings, Frank Balsley eventually logged more than ten thousand hours in the cockpits of nearly every aircraft in the navy arsenal. Retiring from military service in 1965, he flew another fifteen thousand hours as a civilian, many of them for a private airline in Laos and Saigon during the Vietnam War.
The man whose closest friends growing up were Japanese-Americans remains a three handicap golfer as he approaches the age of ninety. Today, he lives in San Jose, California.