Charles L. Banks

hq_banks
“Gus” Banks as a Raider Major in New Georgia, 1943.
NAME:
Charles Louis Banks
NICKNAME:
Gus
SERVICE NUMBER:
0-5313
HOME OF RECORD:
Newark, NJ
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Elizabeth Moses Banks
DATE OF BIRTH:
7/30/1914
SERVICE DATES:
6/1/1936 – 7/1/1959
DATE OF DEATH:
2/22/1988
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE RESULT
Enogai HQ/1st Raiders Battalion XO Major  
Bairoko HQ/1st Raiders Battalion XO Major  
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Silver Star, Legion of Merit (WW II)
Navy Cross, Legion of Merit (2nd and 3rd awards) (Korea)
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Lieutenant Colonel (WW II)
Brigadier General (Retirement)

Charles Louis Banks was born in Essex County, New Jersey in 1914. He was raised in Newark by William and Lillian Banks, excelled in high school, and secured an appointment to Virginia Military Institute at the age of eighteen.

banks_cadet

Cadet Banks matriculated at VMI in September, 1932. He immediately made a name for himself with campus publications, rising to hold the desk of sports editor for both The Cadet newsletter and The Bomb yearbook. No slouch on the playing field himself, “Charlie” boxed, played football, sat on the council for intramural sports, and earned a coveted VMI monogram in his senior year. As a cadet private with Company F, Banks studied artillery and liberal arts, and graduated fifth in his class.[1] “The City of Newark did V.M.I. and the Class of 1936 a signal honor when she sent Charlie down here in search of higher education,” reads his senior profile in The Bomb. “Industrious, intelligent, of an ideal disposition, let it suffice to say that a host of friends are glad and proud of his acquaintance and wish him the best there is.”

banks_VMIsenior Immediately after graduation, Lieutenant Banks—who had chosen the Marines as his preferred branch of service—was assigned to First Battalion, 10th Marines as a battery officer. For the balance of the decade, he gained experience as an antiaircraft artillery officer, spending much of his time in the defenses of Parris Island. There were no enemy planes to spot, nor much company save for hundreds of similarly occupied Marines. Luckily, Banks’ battery was re-designated as Battery G, 15th Marines, and ordered out to San Diego—a move that would change the young lieutenant’s life.

The Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, March 10 1939.
The Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury, March 10 1939.

In 1939, Lieutenant Banks proposed to Elizabeth Angier Moses. Miss Moses was not only well educated, but well connected—her father, Marine Brigadier General Emile P. Moses, had a long and distinguished career including commander of Marine Barracks, Washington DC, where (along with then-major Lemuel Shepherd), he had conceived the idea of the famous Evening Parade. When Charlie and Betty married in 1939, General Moses was poised to take the position of supervising general of Parris Island—he would run the facility until his retirement in 1944.

Banks’ father in law, General Moses, inspecting a barrage balloon exercise at Parris Island, 1942.

If Betty had Charlie’s heart at home, artillery was his first love in the service. He attended the Army Field Artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma after his wedding, then received an appointment to run the Aerial Observer Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico—a position he held until January, 1942.[2] Perhaps in preparation for an overseas assignment, Captain Banks was assigned to Headquarters, Amphibious Force, Atlantic, serving on the staff of the fearsome General H. M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith. Smith was tasked with the titanic job of preparing rapidly growing Marine and Army divisions for amphibious combat, and Banks (although still technically in charge of training aerial observers) received the same rigorous indoctrination.

General Smith transferred to San Diego in August of 1942 to take command of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet—a similar organization to his Atlantic assignment—and brought his reliable staffer Banks (who had been promoted to Major) along. However, Charlie Banks had had enough of staff work, and on October 23, 1942, he became the executive officer of the brand new Fourth Raider Battalion. He reported directly to one of the most famous names in the Corps—Lieutenant Colonel James Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Charles Banks, Jimmy Roosevelt, and Jack Schaffer survey the land at Camp Pendleton, California. Photo from Raider Patch No. 84, 2003.
Charles Banks, Jimmy Roosevelt, and Jack Schaffer survey the land at Camp Pendleton, California. Photo from Raider Patch No. 84, 2003.

From October 1942 to February 1943, the Fourth Raiders underwent the strenuous commando-style training that was the hallmark of their three sister battalions already serving in the Pacific. On February 9, the battalion was deemed combat ready and set sail for Espiritu Santo Island, arriving on March 1, 1943. Within two weeks, they were joined by the First (Edson’s), Second (Carlson’s) and Third Raider Battalions, to be formed into a single organic unit—the First Marine Raider Regiment. The former Fourth Battalion had its companies re-numbered and re-allocated—and lost their executive officer, Major Banks, to the First Battalion on April 27, 1943.

Banks replaced the former Exec of Edson’s Raiders, the tough and salty Lieutenant Colonel Samuel B. Griffith, who had been promoted to battalion commander.[3] Griffith had just recovered from a nasty shoulder wound suffered at Guadalcanal’s “Bloody Ridge” and would soon receive the Navy Cross for his actions during that battle. As the regiment prepared for its next invasion, even an old-Corps regular like Banks would have been impressed by the bearing of the men and officers of the First Battalion—a unit whose combat record spoke for itself. They set sail for Guadalcanal itself at the end of May, 1943, and it can only be imagined how the survivors of Bloody Ridge and the Long Patrol regaled the newer men with tales of fierce combat against the Japanese.

Final preparations for the invasion of New Georgia were completed at a camp on Guadalcanal’s Tetere Point, and by July 4, 1943, all was in readiness. The Raiders embarked on a series of APD transports that night, and before dawn had launched a successful combat assault on Rice Anchorage. The Raiders got ashore with minimal casualties thanks to the element of surprise and a driving rainstorm that hampered Japanese artillery, although the destroyer USS Strong was lost to a Japanese torpedo.

The next few weeks would be unlike anything “Gus” Banks had ever experienced, but his professionalism, training, bravery, and sheer luck proved a formidable combination. From the moment of landing, he was observed to take on his duties as an exec under fire with “fidelity and efficiency.” As his battalion swept up the “Dragon’s Peninsula,” they fought both the driving rain and the Japanese in previously unknown locations like Giza Giza, Triri, Maranusa, Bairoko, and Enogai. These last two villages would last in the memories of the Raiders for the rest of their lives. Making the final surge to Enogai meant plowing through some of the most inhospitable terrain on Earth in the face of Japanese fire; Marine supplies were stretched to the limit, and for some the greatest impetus to take Enogai at all was the crates of Japanese rations promised by Colonel Griffith.

Photo from the Raider Patch, January 1981.
Photo from the Raider Patch, January 1981.

The regimental commander, Colonel Harry “The Horse” Liversedge, almost didn’t make it to Enogai. Caught in an ambush on July 9—just 750 yards from the objective—the colonel found himself isolated and exposed to fire from Japanese machine guns and tree-climbing snipers. Discovering his plight, Major Banks organized a patrol and rushed to his assistance, driving the Japanese away. Later that night, a massive tree branch fell on the battalion command post, missing Banks but killing one of the Raider radiomen.[4] Banks would later receive the Silver Star for rescuing his commanding officer, but that night he was likely wishing to be anywhere else than starving and soaked in New Georgia.[5]

The following day, Enogai fell to the Raiders. In the midst of the feasting, sake binging, and last bits of fighting, the surviving battalion officers gathered for a picture.

Raider officers at Enogai. Banks is standing in the conspicuous white t-shirt; to his left is Colonel Griffith.
Raider officers at Enogai. Banks is standing in the conspicuous white t-shirt; to his left is Colonel Griffith. Photo appears in Edson’s Raiders: The First Marine Raider Battalion in World War II by James Alexander.

As the Raiders rested and resupplied, plans were made for the upcoming assault on Bairoko, scheduled for dawn on July 20.

The attack stepped off as planned, but quickly ran into heavy resistance; by nightfall, it was clear that the First and Fourth Raider Battalions simply did not have the strength to wrest Bairoko from the Japanese. Major Banks spent a busy evening, volunteering to navigate unfamiliar trails between the Marine lines and the new base at Enogai, along which the wounded could be evacuated and supplies brought back up. The next day, the Americans withdrew back to Enogai and established defensive positions—Bairoko simply wasn’t worth the suicidal effort. Occasional patrols were still made to keep an eye on the Japanese garrison, and on one occasion Major Banks risked life and limb to ride a surf boat out into the harbor itself to rescue three men adrift on a raft.

On August 28, 1943, the Raiders were withdrawn from New Georgia and sailed back to the relative safety of Guadalcanal. The battle had taken its toll—only 254 men from the First Battalion were fit for duty, and Gus Banks was not among them. He was hospitalized for illness in September, 1943; when his friend and leader Colonel Griffith was ordered back to the States for a well-earned rear assignment, Banks was not well enough to take charge. On October 3, 1943, Banks relieved George Herring as the commander of the First Raider Battalion. He could not have known at the time that he would be their last battalion commander.

Officers of First Battalion, First Raider Regiment, late 1943. Major Banks, commanding, is seated third from left. Raider Patch, May 1978.
Officers of First Battalion, First Raider Regiment, late 1943. Major Banks, commanding, is seated third from left. Raider Patch, May 1978.

Later that month, the Raiders hit New Zealand on liberty nearly as hard as they’d hit New Georgia in combat. “Major Banks knew what his veterans had lived through, and he took his time squaring away their wildcat ways,” writes Joseph H. Alexander. “Nevertheless, the battalion displayed ragged discipline that had never been tolerated under Merritt Edson or Sam Griffith.” The holidays were particularly bad; it seemed every brig held a Raider, and wild celebratory gunfire occurred in their camp on Christmas and New Year’s. That was the final straw for Banks, and 1944 began with a “tightening of the screws” and a return to discipline.[6] Decorations were issued in a ceremony on January 8, and Major Banks stood at attention to receive the Silver Star and the Legion of Merit for his actions in the New Georgia campaign.

Shortly after their return to Guadalcanal, the Raiders learned that their coveted designation was being taken away; henceforth they would be known as the 4th Marines – replacing the celebrated old regiment lost on Corregidor. Banks was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel while on Guadalcanal, but in May received orders to return to California. His days with the 4th Marines were over.

Banks returned to San Diego a highly-decorated combat veteran. After a stint in the hospital, likely due to the lingering effects of his tropical illness, he was assigned to Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force Pacific as the assistant operations officer. He would not take command of a combat unit again until April 15, 1945, when he was ordered to the headquarters of First Battalion, 24th Marines. Banks relieved the acting commander, Major Horace Parks (who became Banks’ exec), and once again began the process of preparing a rifle battalion for combat. He had a good core of combat veterans to work with—some of the senior NCOs were even former Raiders. However, the war ended before Banks had a chance to lead 1/24 in action.

Gus Banks sailed back to California in late 1945. The war was over, but he was a career Marine, and his star was still on the rise. After an uneventful few years spent serving at Camp Pendleton and the Boston Navy Yard, Banks wrangled a new appointment as the commanding officer of the Second Battalion, Second Marines, then transferred to the First Service Battalion, First Marine Division for deployment to Korea. The unit was hardly on a war footing, so Banks underwent the Herculean task of bringing it up to speed. By the time of the assault on Inchon, the First Service Battalion was an exceptional support unit, and its work in supplying not just its own division but at least five other American and ROK units earned widespread praise and won Banks his second Legion of Merit.

Within weeks of the landings, however, the Marines had been stymied at the infamous Chosin Reservoir. To support the Marine advance, Banks set up his command at a supply dump at Hagaru-ri, near the Division headquarters.

On November 29, 1950, the Chinese 58th Division attempted to overrun the lightly-held command post at Hagaru-ri. “Lieutenant Colonel Banks quickly deployed his non-tactical personnel into a well-formed defensive perimeter and, assisted by a friendly artillery battery and several tanks, succeeded in repelling the assault and in inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy,” wrote Gus Banks’ subsequent Navy Cross citation. “Aggressively defending his sector against a second determined hostile attack during which heavy and accurate mortar fire ignited several oil dumps and a small enemy force broke through his lines, he immediately shifted his defensive positions, engaged and repulsed the hostile troops and put them to rout, again inflicting heavy casualties.” He continued to direct the defense of the base until December 6, when the Marines began their breakout from the “Frozen Chosin.”

In 1951, Banks moved another rung up the ladder with an appointment to Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, First Marine Division. This placed him in more or less complete control of the division’s logistics, and once again he rose admirably to the occasion. Banks added a third Legion of Merit to his total for his work between January 12 and May 25, 1951, and was honored with a promotion to the rank of full Colonel. Later that year, he returned to the United States to take a position at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

For the next eight years, Colonel Banks held a variety of staff and administrative positions at Marine bases across the country; in 1954, he attended the University of Utah, commanding the local NROTC while simultaneously earning his law degree. He was through with overseas deployments, and on the occasion of his retirement in 1959 was honored with a promotion to Brigadier General.

The Salt Lake Tribune, Wednesday July 1, 1959.
The Salt Lake Tribune, Wednesday July 1, 1959.

Not content to rest on his considerable laurels, he entered business with Kaiser Engineering Company in Oakland, settled in California, remarried Jane Taylor (a former WAVE officer and bestselling author), and started a family. At the time of his death in 1988, he was the vice president of a San Francisco-based shipping company.

Banks left behind a record of his experiences, recorded in 1969 as “Reminiscences of Charles Louis Banks.” His present burial place is unknown.

_____
NOTES:

[1] http://www9.vmi.edu/archiverosters/show.asp?page=details&ID=11462&rform=search
[2] Joseph H. Alexander, Edson’s Raiders: The 1st Marine Raider Battalion in World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 237.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Alexander.
[5] Banks’ Silver Star citation lists him as a member of the 4th Raider Battalion at this time, but this is likely an error as he appears on the rolls of the 1st Battalion.
[6] Alexander, 298-299.

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