John Joseph Baltra
|HOME OF RECORD:
|NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. June Baltra
|DATE OF BIRTH:
6/1/1934 – 3/31/1961
|DATE OF DEATH:
|Aleutian Islands||USS Louisville||—||Platoon Sergeant|
|Rennell Island||USS Louisville||Gun Captain||Gunnery Sergeant|
|Attu & Kiska||USS Louisville||Gun Captain||Gunnery Sergeant|
|Marshall Islands||USS Louisville||Gun Captain||Gunnery Sergeant|
Good Conduct Medal
Distinguished Marksmanship Badge
|LAST KNOWN RANK:
First Sergeant (WWII)
Master Sergeant (Retirement)
John Baltra was born in Pennsylvania in 1908. Little is known about his life before the service; he enlisted in the Army at some point in the 1920s – he appeared on the 1930 census as a soldier at Fort Kamehameha, Territory of Hawaii – before resigning to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Baltra’s Army experience exempted him from the rigors of boot camp, but did not translate into Marine rank – he entered the Corps as a private, and spent his first eight months of duty standing guard at the Puget Sound ammunition depot. In early 1935, he made Private First Class and returned to the Territory of Hawaii to serve with the Marine detachment at Pearl Harbor; in addition to his regular duties, Baltra was a fixture on the inter-company bowling team, which rolled its way to the territory championships with his help. By December 1936, Baltra had the two stripes of a corporal and was detailed as the post commandant’s orderly.
Corporal Baltra had one great talent that set him apart from the rest of the Marines at Pearl Harbor; he was an exceptional marksman. He was assigned to the Peal Harbor rifle range early in 1937; later that year, after transferring back to Puget Sound, he was chosen to participate in a state-wide rifle competition. His star continued to rise through 1938 and he was placed on his unit’s rifle team.
Later that year, Baltra was assigned to the rifle range detachment at MCB San Diego; from there he traveled to Wakefield, Massachusetts to join the Marine Corps Rifle and Pistol Team and participated in the 1938 competition. He was eventually eliminated and detailed to Portsmouth Naval Prison as a guard; it was well known that any prisoner who escaped would have the remainder of his sentence served by his guard, so the wardens were tacitly allowed (if not encouraged) to shoot to kill. Luckily, none tried to escape Corporal Baltra – possibly hearing of his continued prowess on the rifle range.
The following year, Corporal Baltra competed again – and won.
After yet another year of impressive achievement on the range, Baltra was promoted to sergeant and sent to California, where he taught boots how to handle both rifles and pistols. In early 1941, he was promoted again and became a full-fledged DI.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Platoon Sergeant Baltra was faced with the task of calming a very nervous training platoon. He immediately put in for a combat transfer; in recognition for his years of service, his request was granted and within a month Baltra was on his way to Hawaii. He was briefly attached to the Pearl Harbor barracks, where he saw the devastation of the fleet first hand before joining the Marine detachment of the cruiser USS Louisville. Baltra and his ship saw action in the defense of the Aleutian Islands in mid-1942, and then sailed for the southwest Pacific, where they participated in a number of campaigns as a gunnery support ship. In October 1942, Baltra was promoted to gunnery sergeant and placed in charge of a 5″ gun in the cruiser’s secondary battery. The “Lucky Lou” had a close call in January 1943 at the battle of Rennell Island – a dud Japanese torpedo hit their ship, and if any of the crew needed a reason to thank their lucky stars, they had it when they saw their crippled sister ship, USS Chicago. Louisville helped tow Chicago to safety out of the combat zone, and then returned to the Aleutian Islands until the Japanese were finally driven out.
Gunny Baltra spent a fairly restful summer in California as the Louisville was overhauled at the Mare Island shipyard, then returned to the war in the first weeks of 1944. Over the next four months, his cruiser participated in the bombardment of a number of objectives, including Namur in the Marshall Islands – he wouldn’t have known it, but his future comrades in First Battalion, 24th Marines were landing on the island right under his guns.
On May 4, 1944, Baltra was transferred back to California – unsurprisingly, he became a rifle instructor at Camp Pendleton. He remained there for the next twelve months, before the needs of the Fleet Marine Force called him back to the combat area. Baltra was assigned to the 66th Replacement Draft and promoted to First Sergeant; he was assigned to Charlie Company, 24th Marines as their senior NCO on July 7, 1945.
After the war, Baltra was sent to the Naval Operating Base on Okinawa, where he served as the first sergeant of Headquarters Company. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to master sergeant. Baltra left active duty on July 11, 1948, but remained in the Marine Corps reserve into the 1960’s; he finally retired in 1961.
John Baltra died in 1985. He is buried in West Hill Cemetery, Dalton, Georgia.