By Andy Alison, Special to the Independent
Even if you have called Laguna Beach your home for years or maybe even decades, it’s not likely that you have ever heard of local brothers Malcolm and Gordon Shive or their close friend, Weston “Wess” Balfour. Few have unless you lived in town during the 1930s or 1940s.
By 1941, both of the Shive brothers and Wess Balfour had graduated from Laguna Beach High School. Like so many grads since, they had grand plans after graduation: to find their way to Hawaii and the South Pacific to live in the tropical paradise, recalled the brothers’ sibling, Gary Shive, in 2001.
Unlike today’s graduates that can actually arrive in Honolulu on the same day they graduate, passage to Hawaii in 1941 for those of lesser means was offered courtesy of the U.S. Navy, Army and Marine Corp.
Young recruits probably believed that being stationed in the South Pacific gave them a better chance of staying out of harm’s way and avoiding the United States pending involvement in Europe fighting the Nazis.
Unfortunately, after enlisting all three local boys were to disappear shortly after they had their last photo taken in late 1941, when Wess Balfour was in Honolulu en route to the Philippines.
They were never to return home to Laguna Beach to participate in the life opportunities shared by their classmates to become artists, filmmakers, surfing innovators, educators, real estate entrepreneurs or civic leaders.
Yet, the contributions of the Shive brothers and Balfour are no less significant than those other local citizens that we now revere and respect as part of the legacy of Laguna Beach. The single significant difference in their lives was the disruption caused by the Empire of Japan making war in the Pacific Ocean.
Brothers Malcolm and Gordon Shive were stationed aboard the U.S.S. Arizona along with 37 other sets or trios of brothers. Both Shive brothers perished with 23 other sets of brothers during the attack on Pearl Harbor that occurred early Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941.
Gordon Shive was found dead floating in the oily water of Pearl Harbor, believed blown overboard off an upper deck when an attacking Japanese bomber scored a direct hit, penetrating the thick armored forward decks of the battleship and igniting a large ammunition magazine, according to Wikipedia. The massive explosion is also believed to have killed Malcolm Shive, deep within the lower decks of the ship, along with a significant number of the 1,177 killed or missing aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, the article says.
Balfour went on to be stationed with the Marines in the Philippines, bravely surviving the infamous Bataan Death March, only to die a prisoner of war deep within the dank cargo hold of the Japanese freighter Shinyo Maru. The freighter was sunk by the submarine U.S.S. Paddle, when it fired two torpedoes at the unmarked POW transport in 1944, says a biography on a website with ties to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
I was surprised to learn that the high school social studies curriculum does not include classroom studies remembering the Shive brothers and Wess Balfour or any other LBHS alumni that perished in other foreign wars and conflicts.
Making the connection between LBHS students who died in WWII with today’s graduating students provides an excellent opportunity to make tangible and personal the reality of war and the sacrifices made by local individuals.
On the Wall of Honor plaque established at the high school in 2009, Mehegan pointed out that former students who died in military service are not forgotten. Inscriptions include the names of Malcolm and Gordon Shive, Weston Balfour and three other WWII veterans, Allan Goff, Jr., Lloyd Babcock and Harry Ritter. Stars next to their names indicated being lost in battle. Also included were names of other LBHS alumni that lost their lives in other conflicts.
Maybe by teaching our high school students about the local individuals that gave their young lives in preserving our freedom and way of life, we can help bring more meaning to this national holiday besides being the last three-day weekend before summer.
Each Memorial Day, let’s remember to recognize those individuals who once lived in Laguna Beach, went to war and never returned.
The author is a longtime resident and local historian.