George Vroom Banning
World War II (1942-1945)
Letter of Commendation for Service
George Vroom Banning was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on April 22, 1917, and he grew up there his whole life. His mother was a housewife, and his father worked in public relations for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. Banning was the first to serve in a war in his family. His younger brother followed his footsteps by later joining the Marines. Banning served in the Navy for three action-packed years.
Banning graduated from Princeton in 1939 and from Harvard Graduate School in 1941 with a Masters in architecture. When he went home that winter, he found “greetings from Uncle Sam” amongst the many Christmas cards received in the mail. Acting quickly, Banning enlisted in the navy to avoid being drafted, believing that the navy supported a much cleaner lifestyle. His family understood the situation he was in, and they supported the decision he made.
At Norte Dame, Banning received his equivalent of boot camp for one month. He was then sent to Midshipman school for three months on the old USS Illinois, which was rename d the Prairie State, based in New York. He slept with other Navy students in one huge, uncomfortable wooden barn, ate “edible” food, and experienced few sources of entertainment. While Banning found the harsh experience doable, he was posed with the study of engineering, something he had never been educated in before in university. However, he overcame the challenge, graduated with his midshipman classmates, and earned his commission as an ensign.
After a short leave, the next step was amphibious training at Solomon’s Base in Maryland. There, he learned how the Landing Craft Tanks, LCT boats, worked and how to run a crew. Banning further continued his amphibious training in Little Creek, Virginia.
In August of 1942, Banning was sent to his first duty at Norfolk, Virginia. He received more experience and training with the LCT boats and was assigned a crew of enlisted men. As a skipper, Banning was worried that these new members wouldn’t have a enough experience, but he soon recognized the ability and potential of his crew. Banning and his crew took a train across the country to San Francisco, where he was assigned to a boat for his own command. The crew performed odd, makeshift jobs and moved around the bay for a couple of months.
Banning’s boat was then sent to the Aleutian islands of the Northern Pacific. For the journey, their smaller LCT boats were stacked upon larger LST boats that were three times the size. Banning and the fellow sailors journeyed up the Inside Passage through Canada to the island of Kodiak. They encountered a terrible storm along the way and had to steer the ships by hand due to broken rudders. They then island-hopped to the base at Adak, working there for a few months unloading cargo ships. Next, Banning led his to the Aleutian island of Attu. The Japanese had already arrived there, but they didn’t arouse any troubles for Banning’s crew like they did for the American infantry, which suffered many losses. They worked there for 3 months and then went to Shemya Island to build an airbase. Since the Shemya consisted of sand, it was easy to level the ground and make a landing strip for bombers. Banning continued to the island of Kiska where the Japanese had already escaped. Banning’s crew stayed there until they were ordered to leave for San Francisco.
The Japanese hunt continued for Banning’s crew, with their next assignment at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. They were ready to invade Saipan when they were given a leave that sent them back to Maryland for more instruction. After, they headed for New Orleans where Banning was assigned twelve LCT’s for his own command. He and his crew then flew to Leyte Island in the Philippines and picked up their new ships. There, they joined other servicemen preparing thousands of ships for the spring invasion of Japan in 1945.
But when the moment was approaching, Banning’s crew was taken off the assignment and sent to Eniwetok, a little Island with no current happenings. He waited with his crew for two to three months until the war was over and his points were adequate. The time of his release had come. Banning was released from service at San Pedro Harbor in San Francisco in November of 1945. During his three bustling years of service, Banning was luckily never injured. He received several levels of commendation for his outstanding service.
Upon his arrival home, Banning was greatly welcomed by his family and Americans and was united with his 9-month pregnant wife. He settled down in Marin County and got used to becoming a father. He also put into use his masters degree in architecture in the civilian work force. Banning started off by working for other local architects and then proceeded forward with a partnership for an architectural firm in San Rafael.
Recently, Banning has kept in touch with his naval history by attending a naval reunion five years ago in Los Angeles with his thirty year old son. To his surprise, Banning reunited with an officer who had taken over his ship at Pearl Harbor. Out of the thousands of navy men who commanded the LCT boats, Banning was astounded at the odd chances to have reconnected with him.
Looking back on his service as a whole, Banning recalls the toughest part to be the weather in the Aleutian Islands. Banning and his crew had to battle rain, snow, wind, and the signature willy-waws, which were sudden storms with very high winds.
Thinking of his hardships brought Banning back to his scariest moment during his service. He was in Attu when a cable ship hit the rocks of Massacre Bay. The captain of the port called him up for help, but when Banning arrived, the situation was beyond repair. A tugboat was called in to tow the boat off shore, but it couldn’t do much for the sinking ship. However, it did manage to save the men on board. The time that Banning’s ship spent at the harbor trying to help the cable ship caused its ropes to break, engine to fail, and anchor to be disabled. When the tugboat left, Banning’s ship was left behind. But Banning wouldn’t let his ship go down so fast. He flashed a search light for some time until, miraculously a small boat appeared and brought further help. Banning’s crew was rescued by a large luxury yacht. “We were lucky,” Banning remarked.
Banning also recalls humorous events in his service. While taking a group of army men to Holtz Bay, his compass was thrown off by the electromagnetic field in the region. Luckily, he managed to reach his destination, but he forgot to notify the passengers of their landing. When the boat hit the beach, the colonel was eating dinner and experienced a big, messy crash. He then came up to Banning and apologized for dumping him dinner on the deck. “A real gentleman,” Banning reflected.
Chuckling, Banning went on to recall the origins of his red-hat crew. When he had decided to dye the curtain, which sectioned off his sleeping quarters, red in a big dishpan, the boat’s cook dropped his hat in the pan. This idea was followed by all the crewmen who dropped their hats in as well.
Another humorous event in Banning’s service was his encounter with a monkey in the Philippines. The monkey had managed to jump on the hot muffler on his ship and burned his tail. The monkey screamed, letting out a sound that Banning had never heard before. “He was not a smart monkey,” Banning recalled. “But he knew about mufflers after that.”
From the “1200 mile strip of nothingness” of the Aleutian Islands to the near death experience on Massacre Bay, George Banning had experienced almost everything a naval skipper could have in a matter of three action-packed years. Through all the hardships, however, Banning believes he wasn’t changed at all, proving to be a lieutenant with an unswerving mindset. He believed his sacrifice was justified, but he added that World War II was a vast war that killed millions of people. “It wasn’t the matter of going through what many people did, but the fact that many people got killed trying protect friends from enemies.”
Interview by Gabriella Aversa and Kathryn Khalvati on July 21, 2011.