Bankowitz serves 33 years as U.S. Marine


When John Bankowitz, of Tipp City, Ohio, dropped out of Hastings High School – where he ran track and where students were generally anti-war and were frequently protesting- and announced to his parents that he intended to join the U.S Marines, his parents were opposed. His father had served in that branch in World War II and would only talk about his time in basic training and not the horrors he had witnessed. His mother had come from Bergen, Norway, to the U.S. after the war and spoke of the invasion of the Germans of her town and of their confiscation of all dairy and meat products and private homes. Additionally, she spoke of her fear of being raped.

Bankowitz joined in spite of their objections. In the draft lottery, his number was 40 and unlike his friends at the high school he attended, he was not going to college and avoid the draft because his parents couldn’t afford to send him. He was influenced in his decision by John Pardy, a local policeman who had street duty and was available for council. He enlisted with plans to use the GI bill to pay for his college expenses and joined the marines he says, in part, to “spite my father” who had told him, “You won’t make it.”

It was off to boot camp in November of 1972 at Parris Island where his drill sergeants were old-school, and some were sadistic. If his unit was rating nonperforming by them, they would confiscate pillows, sheets, blankets, and mattresses, and the men were required to sleep on cot springs. These men in charge refused bathroom breaks and required one man who had urinated on himself to chant, “I’m a maggot.” Two of these officers were court marshaled for their actions As the men left basic, they were asked to sign an affidavit indicating they had not been mistreated. And if they didn’t sign, they knew there would be consequences. They all signed.

Of basic training, Bankowitz says, “It was a million-dollar experience I’d never want to go through again. It was an eye opener. I learned discipline, but it drove me to introversion. We grew up quickly.” He cites a man who slit his wrists and was forced to do calisthenics while waiting for an ambulance. Afterwards, the drill sergeant told the men if they planned to cut their wrists to not slit across but to slit up and down.

For advanced training, Bankowitz opted for military police and was off to Fort Gordon for training and then to Portsmouth, NH, at a very old United States Disciplinary Prison, and then to Ft. Leavenworth where inmates had dishonorable or bad conduct discharges and were incarcerated for all crimes imaginable: murder, rape, robbery, assault. At Leavenworth, he met the woman who was to become his wife, a nurse at that facility. He also met a colonel who was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to two years of incarceration for smoking marijuana with the men he supervised.

At Leavenworth, there was, according to Bankowitz, “a little guy there named William Calley of My Lai massacre fame. a model prisoner, who when asked about his role in that massacre said simply, ‘Wait ‘til you read my book, and I’m not guilty.’”

In April of 1975, Bankowitz was in Vietnam helping evacuate South Vietnamese military and civilians as that country fell to the Communists. And then it was to Quantico, Va., where he cross-trained in supplies and logistics. And on to Desert Storm in 1991 and Qatar in 2004 and then retirement in 2006.

As he reflects on the issues facing recruitment in today’s military, he identifies the following problems: low pay levels, a lack of physical fitness among potential recruits as well as some problems with drug dependency, and a lack of respect for the military. He says, “After 9/11 and Desert Storm, there was general respect, but the poisoned water at Camp Lejeune has not helped with recruitment where potential enrollees say, ‘I’m not going to subject myself to that.’”

If the military draft should again become necessary, Bankowitz says, “Women should serve. If they want equality, we should all serve together with two years of service in the military or to the government.

From 2010- to 2020 Bankowitz was an instructor of junior ROTC at Huber Heights. He is now curator at the Miami Valley Veterans Museum in Troy, but his work there is a story for another time.

As we celebrate the men and women who have served or are serving to preserve our freedom, thank you John Bankowitz.

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