Service Friday for last constable of Alpine County
November 1, 2011
Ed Schalbert, California’s last constable, has died at the age of 93 in his birthplace of San Jose, Calif. Mr. Schalbert served as constable for more than a quarter century in Alpine County, the county with the smallest population of any in the Golden State. The beautiful mountain community of Woodfords was his home for nearly half century.
Mr. Schalbert moved to Alpine County eventually being elected Constable as his third career. He grew up in the farming community of the Santa Clara Valley in San Jose in the 1920s and ’30s. Vincent, and Bertha, his father and mother, immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1906. Vincent first began working in agriculture working the fields of the rich land of the valley. His German speaking immigrant parents quickly embraced their new country becoming American citizens. Just eight years after moving to America, Vincent joined the military in 1914 to fight in World War I. Young Ed was inspired by his parent’s deep patriotism, commitment to service to their new country, and perhaps their love of the Swiss Alps his move eventually to California’s old Alps, Alpine County.
At the age of just 17, he joined the U.S. Navy eventually entering the submarine service. He was deployed to Pearl Harbor and soon found himself in the South Pacific patrolling those waters. Just days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Schalbert was transferred from Pearl Harbor back to Treasure Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. With the attack on the Naval base, the Navy mobilized all available submariners and transported them by ship back to Hawaii. Ed once said that the Navy, because of the scarcity of ships, commandeered the massive private yacht of financier Andrew Mellon and transported the sailors back to the Hawaiian submarine base so the submarines could be put into action.
Schalbert soon rose to the position of Chief Petty Officer or “Chief of the Boat” overseeing the enlisted men on the sub fighting for their country and played his part in the historic role of the service in fighting the greatest war! The Smithsonian has noted “that during the Second World War, submarines comprised less than 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, but sank more than 30 percent of Japan’s navy, including eight aircraft carriers. More important, American submarines contributed to the virtual strangling of the Japanese economy by sinking almost five million tons of shipping – more than 60 percent of the Japanese merchant marine. Victory at sea did not come cheaply. The Submarine Force lost 52 boats and 3,506 men.”
Schalbert participated in more than 30 separate missions on ships like the Redfish and the Greenling. He often spoke about an offer once by the captain to move to the submarine, Argonaut. He declined the offer and the ship was shortly sunk killing all of the men aboard. One of his most dangerous missions was to photograph Japan itself preparing for a potential allied invasion. History books are filled with the exploits by these fearless submariners.
Ironically the former submarine hero will be laid to rest in his beloved Alpine County just a week before the celebration of Veterans Day which honors and thanks all military personnel who served the United States in all wars
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At the age of 26 he married his sweetheart Mary who lived in his hometown of Santa Clara. She also shared his Swiss heritage. Mary spent many days waiting to hear word of whether her dear husband would return from yet another dangerous mission somewhere in the South Pacific. Ed and Mary eventually were given the gift of three girls Marianne, Heidi, and Barbara. Following World War II, they moved to San Diego where he served in the Navy until his retirement.
Following his retirement, Ed and his close friend in the Navy, purchased the well-known Blue Bonnet Bar in Sunnyvale filled with torpedoes and memorabilia from the Great War not too far from his boyhood home. He enjoyed his time reminiscing about his naval days with other war vets. Eventually his great love of the high Sierra motivated him to sell his business and move to little Alpine County. He quickly settled in and was shortly elected constable.
Sociologist Irving Krauss in his book “The Insider’s Journey: Pursuing the American Dream” commented on his travels in the west and even wrote of the disappearance of the position of Constable and Schalbert himself. He noted “The position no longer exists and I miss Alpine County’s Ed Schalbert. He was an imposing figure in his uniform with badge pinned on his shirt and his revolver strapped to his side, and when he handed you the jury summons you felt you had no choice but to go.”
Alpine County Sheriff John Crawford, a neighbor of Ed and Mary, comments how much they served the people of the county for years helping senior citizens with needed food and services. In 1987, the little community of Woodfords suffered the most catastrophic event that any mountain community can experience, a massive forest fire. The Schalberts lost their home that they had built themselves when the infamous Acorn Fire tore down the canyon consuming dozens of house in its path. Fire crews said it took about 3 minutes for their house to be consumed leaving a life time of memories in ashes. After the fire, the resilient couple provided leadership in the community to cope with the fire. Within days of the fire in late July, they began plans for their new home and rebuilt it in just three months celebrating Thanksgiving that year with their family in their new home.
The experience of the fire was a very consuming personal experience and within 16 months, Ed’s love of his life Mary passed away of a heart attack. For the years, he continued his service to the county as constable.
Ed will be buried next to Mary at the Fredericksburg Cemetery. A service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the Alpine Christian Church on Highway 88 in Woodfords.
He is survived by his daughters and their husbands, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
John Cox III is Ed Schalbert’s grandson and pastor of Harvest Bible Fellowship in Carson City.