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War Stories

The Brothers Lament

Michael Banks


The Warrant Office Candidate (WOC) Flight Training Program was my choice when I enlisted. After 8 weeks of grueling harassment by the DI’s at Fort Leonardwood, I continued on to start my flight training at Fort Wolters TX. It was August of 1965.

As far as I knew, at that time the Army was the only branch of the service that allowed men without a college degree to fly. So the WOC program allowed soldiers from various parts of the service arena to put on their new flight suits and for half of the day take part in the actual flight line activities, and spend the other half of the day in classes related to maintenance -- safety, weather, tactics and the like.

I finished the Warrant Officer Candidate Training program and received my Aviator badge, those beautiful silver wings, mid-June of 1966. After a very welcome 3-week vacation, I made my way across the country to Oakland Army Airfield, from which point I caught an Air Force C141, headed toward the land of rice paddies. I arrived Cu Chi, base camp for the 25th Infantry Division, in late July 1966.

After the introduction to the Centaur system, which extended through most of my tour because you were always learning if you kept your eyes open, I transferred from the Light Scouts (OH23’s) to a short intro period in the UH-1B gunships. Later the gun platoons would be blessed with “C” models, a dramatic improvement in functionality for the pilots and crew. But before the Charley models arrived in CuChi, I transferred to fly “slicks” with the AeroRifle Platoon, under the command of Mike Squires.

Sometime in August 66, I was assigned as copilot to CPT Gary Hatfield, an A/C on the UH-1D’s, to begin my training in that part of the troop TO&E. I would be flying slick operations as copilot (2nd in command) until such time as I was seen fit to be the Aircraft Commander. I would then inherit my own Huey and crew.

I remember in early September of ’66, I was sitting in my hooch after a morning of early flight activity, when MAJ “Pete” Peterson stuck his head into my domicile just far enough to elicit an “Attention” command (as a Senior Commissioned Officer was on deck or in the room). MAJ Pete gave the “At Ease” command and summoned me. “Mr. Banks, walk with me?” which was an invitation to a private discussion outside the hooch. I couldn’t remember a really bad screw-up that would warrant a walk with the Unit CO, so I was puzzled about the request. I was 20 years old and his persona was huge to say the least. He had a ‘purposed’ demeanor, looking like he was going to bring up some unpleasant business.”

He asked me, “Do you have a brother named Robert Banks?” “Yes sir, I do!” I said. He grimaced, kept walking and speaking. “And was he a Warrant Officer in country, also?”

I answered him, “Major Pete, my brother Bob is in college in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as far as I know!” The look did not change on his face as he queried further. “I have received information that a WO1 Robert Banks had lost his life recently in an aircraft accident. When asked, his fellow pilots said they believed that he had a brother also flying choppers with the 25th Infantry Division at CuChi!”

Then it hit me, like a sucker punch in the gut, that the energetic WOC in the class one month ahead of me with the name of Banks on his uniform was the man I had become friends with at Fort Rucker in the months of Feb through April of 1966. Robert ”Lee” Banks had been assigned ‘harassment’ duty in our barracks When he saw my nameplate during some spirited vocal exchanges at the new candidates in the WOC compound he smiled and said in a much softer voice, “Hey, brother, we Banks’s have to stick together, ya know!”

We soon became friends and on a few occasions would yell out “Hey, Brother” as we were passing in rank and, big grins on our faces. We had a few opportunities to hang out together over a couple of beers and get to know a little bit about this “other Banks lad”.

banksBobby was a really handsome kid, but the most striking thing about him was his absolute infatuation with the idea of flying. He said he had always been nuts about any kind of flight education, and he was thrilled to be experiencing this dream of a lifetime -- to get to fly choppers AND as a bonus to become an officer in the U.S. Army. His enthusiasm was overwhelming -- he seldom spoke of anything else! And so our mutual love of choppers tied a brother’s knot between us.

I gave MAJ Peterson a short version of my becoming friends with this Robert Banks, but he was still upset with the thought of having lost a pilot somewhere, but was thankful we were not related as I would have been sent back to the world if my real brother had lost his life incountry.

As I now read this over, I am aware that Bobby Lee and I had become brothers of a different sort during those weeks at Fort Rucker. I read the accident report years later which described that Bobby had survived a bad accident and had made his way clear of the downed chopper. But he went back to rescue his crewmembers from the burning craft, and lost his own life in the attempt. I was proud as hell to be a Banks, to be a pilot, and to be a “brother” to a hero.

God bless you, Bobby! You gave it all !!!