20-year Navy man served in WWII, Cuba blockade
WATERLOO, Iowa — George Banky saw World War II, quite literally, from sea to shining sea.
"I was 17 on the beach at Normandy," the Boston native said. "I could kill for my country but couldn't buy a cold beer."
Banky, 86, in the Navy from 1943 to 1963, served on an amphibious landing craft at Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Eight months later, in February 1945, he was on the other side of the world, participating in the landings at Iwo Jima.
Such was the life of a landing-craft sailor.
In the Normandy invasion, it was at Omaha, among the various beaches, where the Allied landing was the most tenuous and the outcome most in doubt.
"Stuff was going badly. The waves, body parts, the whole mess," he said.
His ship, the LCF 18, provided antiaircraft support for the Allied troops against the German Luftwaffe, fighting off enemy planes bombing and strafing troops on the beach.
Some time after the D-Day beachhead, and after a 30-day leave stateside, Banky boarded a troop transport for the West Coast. By November 1944 he was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, training for operations in the Pacific. He would serve in the Marianas Islands, at the battle of Iwo Jima and in the liberation of the Philippines.
At Iwo Jima, his ship, the USS LSM 216, which carried armored vehicles into battle, became a makeshift hospital. The craft's corpsman tended to the wounded. Banky had to assist with a foot amputation and was told to pitch the body part over the side of the ship. It floated in the waves with others from similar operations.
Banky was on board ship at Manila Bay in the Philippines in mid-August 1945 when the Japanese surrender was announced, and he recalls all the Allied ships blowing their horns and sirens in celebration.
Later in his career, Banky served on the carrier USS Essex during several Cold War engagements. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the Essex and other elements of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to help face down a threatened Communist Chinese invasion of the islands of Quemoy, Matsu and Taiwan in the mid-1950s. Banky's ship also put U.S. troops ashore in Lebanon in 1958 to quell a civil war and international crisis there.
And Banky was on board the Essex when it was one of a group of U.S. ships blockading Soviet ships carrying nuclear weapons from reaching Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.
He recalled the Essex turning back a Soviet transport ship.
"We had orders to meet this Russian flotilla coming. We were to fire a shot across the bow to get them to stop, and if they didn't stop, to open fire.
"They stopped, and we stopped. "
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley recently helped Banky secure military decorations and service ribbons he should have received, but did not.
Banky taught air-crash survival training on the West Coast for the federal government for 20 years after retiring from the military, based out of the Naval Hospital in Lemoore, Calif. That's where Waterloo optometrist Ken Brost, who was stationed there while in the Navy, introduced Banky to his sister Renae. Banky moved to the Waterloo area, and he and Renae wed in 1996.
Banky also has other reminders of his service, having brought home both German and Japanese infantry rifles from World War II.