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AL BANKER

June 29, 2005


a thumbnail image of Master Sergeant Al Banker Master Sergeant Al BankerMaster Sergeant Al Banker of New Orleans joined the Corps in his hometown and made it a career. In World War II he served with occupation forces on Saipan. He later served at a number of bases in the United States, as well as in Cuba during the Cuban Revolution under Fidel Castro. Upon leaving the Corps he joined the security forces of Grumman Aerospace Corporation. Retired, he resides in Bolivia, North Carolina.


INTERVIEWER: Mr. Banker?

AL BANKER: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Why did you join the Marine Corps?

AL BANKER: I joined the Marine Corps because I felt it was the proper thing to do. (STAMMERS) To be patriotic to my country.

INTERVIEWER: When you joined the Marine Corps, were you (STAMMERS) , were you aware that the Marine Corps previously had never admitted African Americans?

AL BANKER: Yes, I was. I, I realized that. And, uh, I felt that this is history in the making. And I felt that I wanted to be a part of it. That's the reason I, uh, decided to volunteer for the Marine Corps.

INTERVIEWER: How did you get to Montford Point?

AL BANKER: We traveled by rail from New Orleans, Louisiana to Wilmington, North Carolina and from Wilmington, North Carolina we boarded the (STAMMERS) the seashore transportation bus to Jacksonville, North Carolina, where we were met by some Marine DI's, uh, who picked us up in a truck. And drove us into Montford Point Camp. Just outside of Jacksonville.

INTERVIEWER: What were your first impressions of the camp at Montford Point?

AL BANKER: I was frightened and I said to myself, what did I do? And, uh, then I realized that, uh, this is it. I'm in this Marine Corps and I'm going to stick it out to the end.

INTERVIEWER: What forms of racism did you encounter?

AL BANKER: Quite a bit. Because, uh, at that time, as you may know, that there were never any Colored, uh, troops in the Marine Corps. It was an all White unit. And we were reminded of that fact. And this was the first time that we were allowed to join the Marine Corps. And, uh, this is what, we had a separate camp. We did not train at Parris Island. We trained at Montford Point Camp. (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: What was the spirit of the men at Montford Point like?

AL BANKER: Our spirits were high. We did not, uh, we felt, we knew what we were getting into. We (STAMMERS) know we were going to a segregated outfit and, uh, we just went along with the program.

INTERVIEWER: What was your first night like?

AL BANKER: First night was really tough. Being away from home. Mosquitoes biting you. And, uh, it was very lonely. It was my first time away from home and I knew it'd be a long time before I'd be going back home.

INTERVIEWER: And you had any, uh, African American drill instructors on staff?

AL BANKER: No. No. All of our Drill Instructors were White, they came up from Parris Island, South Carolina. Where the (STAMMERS) regular Marine Corps boot camp was at that time.

INTERVIEWER: There were no noncommissioned officers that, uh, were African American?

AL BANKER: None. No.

INTERVIEWER: When did you first encounter your, uh, African American noncommissioned officers?

AL BANKER: Well, that, I encountered (STAMMERS) noncommissioned officer, I was one myself. That was not until 1943 when, uh, the White, uh, Drill Instructors would begin to phase out. You must remember that there were no White, there were no, uh, uh, (STAMMERS) African American troops in the Marine Corps at all at that time. And we were the first ones to enter that training program.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Therefore, our Drill Instructors were brought up from Parris Island, South Carolina which is a recruit depot for the Marine Corps on the east coast. That's where we trained. (STAMMERS) Those (STAMMERS) , those Drill Instructors were transferred to Montford Point Camp for that purpose. To train us.

INTERVIEWER: Were you among the first group to arrive at Montford Point?

AL BANKER: I was one, among the first. (STAMMERS) (TECHNICAL)

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) I was, I was one of the first, the first Marine to report in to Montford was Howard Perry. He was from Charlotte, North Carolina. And then the group that I came in with, they were from Houston, Texas and, uh, Lake Charles, Louisiana. They met, I met them in New Orleans, Louisiana. (STAMMERS)

INTERVIEWER: When did, uh, Howard Perry report?

AL BANKER: I have no idea what day he reported in there. (PHONE RINGS) I reported in on the 16th, on the 16th of, of, uh, July. (STAMMERS) Not the 16th, I'm sorry. Uh, I reported in on the 24th of July. Uh, but I don't know if Perry was there, uh, several days before me we arrived.

INTERVIEWER: What year?

AL BANKER: 1942.

INTERVIEWER: What was the off camp experience like in, uh, (STAMMERS) Jacksonville area?

AL BANKER: I had no, no comment to make on that because I had never, I never went in, uh, only time I went into Jacksonville was to board the bus to, uh, go to Kinston or to Wilmington. Uh, (STAMMERS) there was very little for us to do in, in Jacksonville. Therefore, (STAMMERS) I never went there.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, uh, did you, uh, ever go off camp to any of the surrounding areas like Kinston or Wilmington?

AL BANKER: I visit Kinston and Wilmington and I've also went, also went to, uh, Raleigh and Durham on weekend liberties.

INTERVIEWER: What was liberty, uh, like in those areas?

AL BANKER: They were all right, I mean, (STAMMERS) segregation all around and, uh, certain places we could go. Uh, (STAMMERS) our section for the Afro Americans, we stayed in that area. And, uh, that's where we, we went.

INTERVIEWER: Can you think of any unique experiences you had, uh, as an African American Marine any of those areas?

AL BANKER: Beg your pardon?

INTERVIEWER: Can you think of any unique experiences that you had as an African American Marine in any of those areas?

AL BANKER: Hmm, uh, (STAMMERS) aside from discrimination, uh, nothing.

INTERVIEWER: What kinds of discrimination?

AL BANKER: Well, the, uh, waiting rooms. Uh, places of entertainment. Uh, taxi cabs. Transportation overall was all discrimination. And, uh, it was really, uh, that was the law of the land and we went right along with it. Had no choice. (CLEARS THROAT)

INTERVIEWER: If you could think of one particular incident, stands out in your mind, while you were on liberty, uh, what would that be?

AL BANKER: One that I can think of most is one, I can't recall a date that it was, but I was on a bus, uh, going to Kinston, North Carolina from Jacksonville. And, uh, the bus was loaded with Marines and a few civilians. And this Afro American Marine was sitting in a seat on the bus and this White lady who wanted to sit down and being (STAMMERS) , the Afro American Marine being in the rear of the bus, where we all had to sit, he, bus driver told the Marine he had to get up and give the lady the seat.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And he refused. But then the bus driver had a few words, said a few words to this young Marine and went up to his front seat and came back with a, with a wrench of some sort. Like he was going to hit the kid. And a few White Marines on the bus warned the bus driver not to touch the guy. Not to touch the Marine.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Don't put your hands on him. That was one incident. There were many others but that was one that, (STAMMERS) stood out, 'cause I really thought we was going to have more trouble (STAMMERS) at that time. And, uh, the Marine sat there. He did not move. And the bus driver drove off. The lady sat up in front, some, he found a seat for her. That was one of them. There were many others.

INTERVIEWER: What were your experiences, uh, after training at Montford Point? Can you give us a couple of examples of where you went?

AL BANKER: My training at Montford Point was very good. I, my, uh, I, uh, left Camp Lejeune in 1946, I think it was. That was my first overseas assignment. But prior to that transfer, uh, my Drill Instructors and all of our instructors were White. And, uh, we were, we could not outrank them. We had to stay a rank below them. And, uh, we, my job at the, at that time was food service.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) I trained when I wasn't cooking. And, uh, rifle range and all (STAMMERS) uh, uh, field exercises and stuff, we went on that. (STAMMERS) With instructions from the White drill instructors. Gradually, as we were trained, more recruits were coming in and as we were trained and elevated in rank, the White Marines were phased out by the end of 1940, '45 I think. It was all Black.

INTERVIEWER: What was your ranking, uh, at Montford Point?

AL BANKER: I was a Master Sergeant. Uh, E-7 at that time.

INTERVIEWER: What type of, uh, reactions do you, (STAMMERS) did any White Marines, uh, display when you, you came there, noncommissioned officer in charge?

AL BANKER: Well, for one, I had one, one, uh, senior, uh, staff noncom who was, uh, White. Uh, who was my, who was a mess sergeant. And, uh, he told me, uh, that, uh, he wanted me to stay out of the office. He did not want me to learn the, uh, operating, uh, instructions because, uh, usually, he said, Colored people, uh, learn something and I may lose my job. (PHONE RINGS)

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) I may go overseas. (PHONE RINGS) So, I want you to stay out in the galley with the cooks. And supervise. (PHONE RINGS) I did that. And all of a sudden, he received orders to go, go overseas with a combat unit. (PHONE RINGS) And now he wants to give me a crash course on, uh, on bookkeeping and accounting.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Uh, I went, told him I'd be right back. Went to my barracks, had a certificate that had, where I had completed a course in bookkeeping and accounting, uh, prior to going into the Marine Corps. And I presented him that certificate and I said to him, you don't have to teach me anything. I know all about bookkeeping. And, that was it.

INTERVIEWER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) Now, where are you from?

AL BANKER: New Orleans, Louisiana.

INTERVIEWER: And what, uh, what (LAUGH) (STAMMERS) I did exactly what you told me not to.

FEMALE: Uh huh. Uh huh. Yes. (LAUGH) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) (ALL TALKING AT ONCE)

FEMALE: (CONTINUED) Tell me about where you're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) .

INTERVIEWER: No, yeah.

FEMALE: I was born in Louisiana.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, all right. Okay, all right. (NON-INTERVIEW DIALOGUE)

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) So tell me about where you're from.

AL BANKER: I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. December 10th, 1923.

INTERVIEWER: Little bit about your family.

AL BANKER: Uh, the, I (STAMMERS) , my mother and father was William and Loretta Banker. They're from, uh, St. Martinville, Louisiana. They moved to (STAMMERS) New Orleans, Louisiana at a young age. My dad was a, uh, a minister, local (STAMMERS) , local preacher in the Methodist Church in New Orleans. My mother was a housewife.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) I had two siblings, a sister and a brother, both are deceased now. I attended, uh, private school and public schools. And I graduated from, uh, (SOUNDS LIKE) McDonough 35 Senior High School in 1941. January, 1941. During those days, schools were segregated. Uh, McDonough 35 Senior High School, uh, we did not have an auditorium. We had, we had to use the Palace Theatre which was downtown for Colored people, patrons only.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) It was on a Sunday morning exercise and, uh, after completing, uh, McDonough 35, I went to work, uh, at Walgreen Drugstore and attended school at night. I went to, uh, YMCA Business School Of Commerce. Took a course in Business Administration. Uh, I had no intention of going, uh, further in college because of the conditions of the world at that time. Uh, (STAMMERS) we were at war and it hadn't been declared a World War yet.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) But, uh, it was getting that way. And, uh, I told my dad, I said, well, uh, it looks like I'm going to have register for the draft. And, uh, uh, registered for the draft and I said to him, I said, I don't want to go in the Army. He said, well you can go in the Navy. He said, most likely you'll be a steward. I said, I don't what that either. But anyway, I went in (STAMMERS) found out that, uh, we could join the Marine Corps. And that's how it started.

INTERVIEWER: How did you find out that, uh, African Americans being sent to the Marine Corps?

AL BANKER: I was reading a newspaper, we have a newspaper, uh, (STAMMERS) Afro American newspaper, (STAMMERS) Pittsburgh Courier and I read in the paper where some, uh, men had joined the Marine Corps. One of them happened to be in my, my scout master was also a member of my church. Uh, name is Raymond Floyd. Uh, and, uh, I saw that and then I said to my dad, uh, when he came home from work.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Uh, (STAMMERS) you know what, I think I'll join the Marine Corps. (STAMMERS) You can't join the Marine Corps. He said, they don't have any Colored boys in the Marine Corps. I said, well they do now. Well how do you know? I said, well, here it is in the paper. I said, Mr. Floyd just joined. And, of course, my dad being a preacher and he start preaching a sermon to me about Marines.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) He say, you know, uh, you can't make it in the Marine Corps. Look at you, you're skinny and, and everything. He said, you know the Marines fight on land, sea and in the air? I said, yes, I know that. And he said, you know, what the saying was in, during World War I and going (STAMMERS) , give me a whole sermon, you know.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Said, uh, if you know something tell it to a Marine. I said, I know that, too. And, uh, I said I want to join the Marine Corps. So I went, I went to the recruiting office and I spoke to the recruiter and he said, your parents would have to sign for you. I said, well, okay. I went home, told my dad about it and, uh, that's how it started, I signed up.

INTERVIEWER: Were there, uh, any, uh, any other African American young men in your community that, uh, went off, went off to camp with you? And if so, how did, how did you all link up? Did you all go together or, how's that?

AL BANKER: No, we, we, uh, I didn't have not many from my area went in the Marine Corps. Uh, I was the only one, when I received orders to report to, uh, Montford Point, I, I was the only one that, uh, had orders in, in, in that area. Uh, there were others that followed but long after I had gone in. Uh, I met a group of fellows, uh, from outside of New Orleans. And as far south as Texas. I met them when they had orders to report into Montford Point the same time that I did.

INTERVIEWER: What was your experience at, when you linked up with the first group of people going the same direction you were going, going in the same direction you were. What, where did you meet them and what happened and how did you all get there together?

AL BANKER: I met them at the train station. Uh, L & N Railroad Station in New Orleans. And, uh, we traveled, uh, two days, it took us two days to get from, uh, New Orleans to, uh, Wilmington, North Carolina. We had Pullman service and dining car service. Our first, uh, thing that really aggravated us on our trip to boot camp was we had government, we were traveling with government orders, assigned Pullman service and dining car service.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Dining car service, the conductor would come and escort us to the dining car after the Whites had had their meal. And escorted us back to our car. And as far as Pullman service, we did not get Pullman service, although the government had authorized it. So, those two nights that we had on the rail we, we sat in a car, in a coach.

INTERVIEWER: Why didn't get you Pullman service?

AL BANKER: They refused to give it to us. They refused to honor the Pullman ticket. And, of course, we had delays on, en route, and we, we, uh, when we finally arrived at Montford Point Camp we arrived a day late, not through our fault, but (STAMMERS) transportation. And, reported into Montford Point Camp and we noticed that the colonel, uh, Colonel Woods who was the commanding officer at that time.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) He saw our paperwork and we did not use our Pullman tickets. And we, we told him what had happened. Nothing he could do at the time. We, uh, but we were frightened, uh, (STAMMERS) 19 and 20 year old young men away from home, some of them for the first time. Without their parents. Uh, I was frightened and (LAUGH) my dad gave me a, a knife and a Bible. (LAUGH)

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And the guys, (LAUGH) (STAMMERS) the guys used to tease me about that. They say, well, pray and use the knife if you get in trouble. (LAUGH) Well, (STAMMERS) give me that for protection going away from home for the first time. So, he wanted me to protect myself.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us a little bit about the boot camp phase of your initial service. (CLEARS THROAT)

AL BANKER: Uh, boot camp, our camp was Montford Point Camp, had 100, 120 huts. Fiberboard huts. And, uh, we, uh, (STAMMERS) drill field was adjoining the (STAMMERS) barracks. Mess hall, chapel and theatre and all that was built there, in the camp. Uh, there were about, I can't recall how many bunks in the barracks, but we, by squads and, uh, we (STAMMERS) and I, in my group, special duty platoon, uh, we were cooks, butchers, barbers and bakers.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) This is what the Drill Instructor, the, the recruiter told my dad when I went to the recruiting office. He said, we need, right now we need cooks, butchers, barbers and bakers. Right away. So my dad said, well you know, uh, my son doesn't know how to cook. He said, well, Mr. Banker, he, when he completes his six weeks of boot training, he will be sent to school to Cooks and Bakers school in Philadelphia for training.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) After training, then he'll come back to camp (WORD?) . Uh, my dad said okay, and then my dad start giving me a whole (STAMMERS) story about male cooks, I hate it, I hated cooking. And I, I said, okay, I listened to what my father told me, you know, I did what he told me to do. And, uh, from then, uh, we, I went in.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And in my platoon there was (STAMMERS) guys from Atlanta, Georgia. Uh, Houston, Texas. Lake Charles, Louisiana. And, uh, (STAMMERS) Howard Perry from Charlotte, North Carolina. And one, some from Alabama. And we all blend in together. (STAMMERS)

INTERVIEWER: What, what did you, what did you want to do in the Marine Corps? If you had had your choice of, uh, MOS jobs.

AL BANKER: Uh huh, uh huh.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, what would you have chosen to do and why?

AL BANKER: Well after I got my start as a cook, uh, I, my rank, uh, I went up in rank fast. Uh, since there was a new thing for us, uh, I, I (STAMMERS) got promoted quickly and, uh, I, uh, as far as going to school after boot camp, uh, I never went to school after boot camp. And, uh, I had six stripes when I went to school for the first time.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) That, the war ended at that time, I went to Fort Benning, Georgia for Mess Management school. Got wrapped up in that, uh, food service and, uh, I guess I was doing a good job because I could, I could not get out of it. I made several attempts to, uh, get into administration but I was shot down. Uh, and it made me feel good to know that I was doing a good job. And I began to like it. And it was, (STAMMERS) it was a challenge to, to, uh, to work with, to feed the troops and it wasn't an easy job either.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, uh, did you meet any people during the training phase that had become well known, uh, for instance, Montford Pointers, that you'd care to talk about? (CLEARS THROAT)

AL BANKER: Oh, sure we had quite a few, uh, in fact, my scout master, uh, Dr. Raymond Floyd, uh, (STAMMERS) deceased now. Uh, he was a member of my church that I went to in New Orleans. Uh, he, he joined, he came, reported in shortly after I did, about the ninth platoon. My, uh, my junior high school, uh, manual training instructor, Professor Wheeler, Mark A. Wheeler, uh, I had him as a mess man.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) (LAUGH) While I was in boot camp. He had to perform a mess duty and here I am, uh, a, uh, a staff sergeant at that time and here I had my, my manual training teacher working for me as a mess man. I felt funny doing that but it was my job and I respected him but I, he was, I didn't treat him any different from the other guys.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And then there was Dr., uh, Parker, Julian A. Parker from New Orleans, Louisiana. He was a professor, Xavier University. Uh, Cecil B. Moore, uh, from Atlanta, Georgia who became an attorney after he (STAMMERS) uh, got out of the Marine Corps. Uh, Bobby Troop who was our Recreational Director. Uh, there were quite a few celebrities that (STAMMERS) we met, uh, that came in the Corps. Served with us.

INTERVIEWER: The mayor of New York City.

AL BANKER: David Dinkins, he came long after I did. I never knew him when he was in the Marine Corps. Uh, let's see, who else. There, a number of, I can't off the top of my head, I can't name them now. But, uh, they all, uh, went through boot training and also, uh, we had Floyd Parker and those guys after they completed their boot training, they were assigned to schools platoon to teach Marines who did not know how to read and write to get them prepared for military service.

INTERVIEWER: Did you or, uh, any Marines who completed training at Montford Point, uh, participate in combat and if so, when and where?

AL BANKER: I never, I never saw combat. I never did get any combat. I had, I came close to it twice, on two occasions. And each time my name came up I was pulled out. The last time it was because (STAMMERS) to take over the recruit training mess hall because the mess sergeant there had, uh, was a poor manager. And the financial status of the mess was bad and my record for running a, (STAMMERS) establishment like that, uh, was good. So, the Director of Food Service of Camp Lejeune decided (STAMMERS) to fire my Commanding Officer. Put me in charge of the Recruit Mess Hall and send that no good for nothing guy (LAUGH) , uh, send him in my place.

INTERVIEWER: Did you, did you know that while they were doing it? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Other people did, Marines, uh, train at Montford Point then served in combat? Could you tell us a little bit.

AL BANKER: I know, I know, uh, several of them, uh, uh, Captain, he's a Navy Captain, uh, (STAMMERS) Chaplain School, uh, uh, (SOUNDS LIKE) McFaddah. He's retired now. He served on Saipan, uh, uh, let's see. Quite a few of us that served, uh, in Korea, Vietnam and places like that. Uh, the names I can't remember now. One, one fellow, Johnson, uh, not the, not that Johnson but the other Johnson. Uh, he had both of his legs amputated from, uh, frostbite in Korea. Young fellow.

INTERVIEWER: Montford Pointers, uh, who did see combat were assigned to different types of units. What were the units that, uh, were most likely to go in combat?

AL BANKER: Well, Montford Point is what we, (STAMMERS) Montford Point Marines, when they went overseas, they served as stevedores and ammunition handlers. It was not until, uh, the invasion of Saipan that things got real hot. And, uh, they had to use the stevedores, the (STAMMERS) the Marines, the, the (STAMMERS) Afro American Marines to fight, help, side by side with their White counterpart.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, the people after, after, after boot camp, the troops were split up into groups. One group would go to Ammunition Company, another group go to, uh, a Depot Company. Depot Companies were stevedores and the Ammunition Aompany handled ammo. And, uh, those things happen. And, uh, they saw combat. And, uh, that's, I never ended up in, in that outfit (STAMMERS) or anything like that.

INTERVIEWER: During you, uh, (CLEARS THROAT) well tell me, how many, how many years did you serve in the Marines?

AL BANKER: 24, 24 years.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) During those 24 years, uh, did you ever travel? Did you ever serve in a combat situation?

AL BANKER: I never served in a combat situation but I, I've gone in after combat. Uh, I went on Saipan. Uh, when I went on Saipan we used to go out on patrol and round up Japanese prisoners right after (STAMMERS) World War II ended. Uh, we used to go out at night and try to round them up because they had, Japanese had surrendered and these guys are (STAMMERS) hiding out in the woods.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) In the mountains. And there, and then, uh, I went to, uh, I was stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the Castro and, uh, Batista revolution. Uh, that was, that was as close to combat as I got. Because I, I, (STAMMERS) I nearly got, I nearly got hit by a tracer bullet, uh, while out on patrol one day going out and check the troops. I was the Duty Officer and I went out on patrol, checking our sentries.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And when I was going down the perimeter, uh, Castro's troops, uh, were bivouacked (STAMMERS) near the base and Batista's soldiers had gone into the post exchange. As, you know, back then they, they were part of the United Nation troops so they were allowed to come and use our commissary and post exchange. And when they come on the base they had to surrender their weapons at the guard house.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) So, being a duty officer that day, I went down to see how my sentries were handling the (STAMMERS) , their weapons and everything. And after checking them out, and seeing how they were handling the weapons, I drove down the perimeter and as I was going down the perimeter the soldiers, Batista's soldiers were leaving.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And then the way they were going, parallel to the base, they were ambushed and (STAMMERS) I, pop, pop, pop, pop. I thought I, I had a flat. But then all of a sudden I, (STAMMERS) it wasn't, (STAMMERS) it was tracer bullets they were firing. And I put the (LAUGH) Jeep in reverse and I was doing about 45 (LAUGH) or 50 miles an hour getting out of there. And, uh, then, uh, we had, we had rough times over there then. When, uh, when, when there was fighting was going on.

INTERVIEWER: What do you, uh, think the historical significance of the Montford Point experience is?

AL BANKER: There were a (STAMMERS) very good experience, uh, overall. Uh, it was amazing to see how we were treated. Uh, different from our counterpart, White Marines. We wore the same uniform, we could not set in the same (STAMMERS) theatres that they do, and we could not go on liberty with them. But in camp, we all (STAMMERS) but overall it was a good experience and it was a hard thing to do.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) In spite of the discrimination. We were insulted. Even the highest ranking general in the Marine Corps insulted us right to our face. And after he made his speech we applauded him. You say, (STAMMERS) we bit the bullet. We knew what we were going into. We knew we were going to a segregation outfit, a segregated outfit.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And we know what, we knew what to expect. We had a, a smoker, a smoke with a box and a match and a general spoke to us there. And he made remark. In his remarks he said, he did not realize that a war was going on until he returned to the States. When he saw you people wearing our uniform. The globe and anchor. He said, I seen dog Marines, women Marines, and you people. We were refereed to as, you people. And, of course, the general, we had to respect him, we applauded him. That was a tough pill to swallow.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that... (TECHNICAL)

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) During the, uh, training cycle...

AL BANKER: Uh huh.

INTERVIEWER: Training cycle...

AL BANKER: Uh huh.

INTERVIEWER: Uh, when you would encounter your Drill Instructors, uh, your White Drill Instructors, uh, can you talk to us a little bit about what those experiences were like?

AL BANKER: Well, I'll tell you, (STAMMERS) those guys, they, they gave the business. They, we got the training that they got down at Parris Island. We did not go through Parris Island. Parris Island came to us. And, I'll tell anyone, that was training. We got training. We, we, we went through hell. Uh, my first week in the Marine Corps we were taken on a forced march through the woods.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Because one of the recruits coming in claimed someone stole some money from him. And, this was a guy assigned to a special duty platoon. I'll never forget this clown's name. His name was Edward, Edwin Pierson, from Houston, Texas. He claimed he had money stolen. So the Drill Instructors, they took us out, Jeep leading the way and one behind us.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And we running with these boondocks on, we're not used to wearing shoes that heavy. But they marched us and they, they drilled and they ran us. And they got us out in the woods, parked the Jeeps in front of us, so the mosquitoes could eat us up. And back in those days, they didn't have malaria control to kill the mosquitoes and all that stuff.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) (STAMMERS) Those mosquitoes were waiting for us. And then on our way back the drill instructor starts calling cadence. He had a good arm, with your left, you're damn right, your left. And all I could do is just stand out there and watch and (STAMMERS) think about my girlfriend back home and my parents back home and I'm saying to myself, what did I get into?

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, that was one incident. The other thing is we had a movie, uh, Abbott And Costello movie. Uh, in the movies, in the theater, the drill instructors, they all sit up in the balcony and the troops sat down below. And, uh, crying out loud, uh, (STAMMERS) any one go to see an Abbott And Costello movie, you know, you got to laugh at it, it's funny.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And we were laughing and all of a sudden they stopped the (STAMMERS) movie and the drill instructors made us get out of the movie and sent us back to the barracks. And they started the movie again for them. Because we were laughing. Several days later a new group of Drill Instructors came in. So, I must say that, Colonel Samuel E. Woods was our Commanding Officer.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And he was a wonderful man. He was trained at the Citadel and he had been in combat, I can't recall how many years Colonel Woods had in it. But he looked out for us. And he understood what kind of prejudice we had to put up with. Even with the bus station. Even the merchants in Jacksonville. Colonel Woods, we having problems, we get (STAMMERS) a bus. But Colonel Woods, they had had, uh, military trucks to take us to Wilmington or Kinston.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) We would put the liberty list up and you sign your name on a, on a sheet, what movie you want to go to, what, uh, town you want to go to and those trucks would take us and bring us back to camp at night. That went on for quite a while. (CLEARS THROAT) (NON-INTERVIEW DIALOGUE)

INTERVIEWER: Tell us a little bit about (BACKGROUND NOISE).

INTERVIEWER: (CONTINUED) Tell us a little bit more about, uh, Colonel Woods. Was he, was he married, wife, uh, what kind of combat service he had. What do you know about him?

AL BANKER: I don't know, I don't know much about his (STAMMERS) combat experience. Uh, I did know of it, uh, over the years I forgotten all about it. But he, he was, he, he understood our problem. He was White. We had no, no, there were no, uh, Afro American officers, uh, there at all. We were all enlisted men, below the rank of our White instructors and counterparts. Those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not a Drill Instructor.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, he, uh, he got rid of those Drill Instructors after they had made us leave the theatre. And one time, another time, uh, Cecil Moore and a few other of the fellows, of our guys, we had a, a USO show coming to the Montford Point. And, uh, Cecil Moore and a few other guys told, (STAMMERS) we going to boycott.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) We're not going to go to the, we're not going to go to the theatres tonight. And, uh, the word got out to Colonel Woods that we were not going. We all stuck together, said, we're not going to go to the movie. They put us out, we're not going to go. And Colonel Woods didn't want this to happen because that would have been really ink on the sheet.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) So, he got rid of those Drill Instructors and we said we would go to the movie, we would go to the theater, 'cause a USO show was coming. And Louis Armstrong and other groups were there. Bobby Troop who was a musician, he was one of our (STAMMERS) , he was our recreation officer. He was just like one of us. He was White.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) He was just like, (STAMMERS) color didn't mean a thing to him. And he was with us from the beginning to the end. Uh, (STAMMERS) he did a lot of things for recreation, after duty, after working hours and things like in training. The, uh, we (STAMMERS) rifle range, we (STAMMERS) , the White Marines (STAMMERS) had a camp out there.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) We would take out, we would go out to the rifle range on a daily basis in trucks and they would bring the food out to us. We could not eat in the mess hall, in the White mess hall. They, they brought our food, we ate out in the field. In the rifle range, you know, one week and, uh, all three rifles would be (STAMMERS) , were used in the beginning and then later on the M1 rifle.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Then they built a, then they built a camp for us out there. Cinderblock barracks, uh, and, uh, that way, you go out for one week and you stay out there for one week and, uh, eat in the mess hall. Which I was in charge of. The rifle range mess hall. And by that time we had, uh, Afro American Drill Instructors. And most of the, most of the White Drill Instructors were gone and, they, they shift them around.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And when they, when they find a Drill Instructor that wasn't, (STAMMERS) wasn't doing the right thing, the colonel had got rid of him right away.

INTERVIEWER: (STAMMERS) Did you notice any difference or could you explain the difference that you noticed, uh, between the White Drill Instructors and African American Drill Instructors?

AL BANKER: (OVERLAPPING) Oh yes. Oh yes. I'll tell you what, if I had some of the, the, (STAMMERS) Afro American drill instructors, uh, when I was going through boot camp, I think I never would have made a career out of it.

INTERVIEWER: Why, why is that?

AL BANKER: Because they, they went to the extreme. They went entirely to the extreme and, and, uh, (STAMMERS) I, (STAMMERS) I have a bitter, a bitter taste in my head, uh, from some of the things that they did.

INTERVIEWER: Could you give us an example?

AL BANKER: Well, for example, for instance, I had one, (STAMMERS) a highly recommended person. He's, he's dead now, may his soul rest in peace, wherever he is. Uh, we had, (STAMMERS) at Earle, New Jersey, Naval Ammunition Depot, is a Guard Detachment way up there and we were taking, uh, correspondence courses from the Marine Corps Institute.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, certain ranks are higher, senior staff noncom's have to take officers basic extension courses. And the other enlisted men take lower caliber tests. And some of us were having problems with mapping, mapping aerial photography. So, one of the lieutenants, one of our lieutenants decided that he would have a class on Saturday afternoon to help us with the problems that we were having with our aerial photography and other (STAMMERS) subjects that were doing bad in. And this one sergeant who was getting A plusses on his tests from MCI, uh, he asked him, he asked him to assist him.

INTERVIEWER: What is MCI?

AL BANKER: Marine Corps Institute. And, uh, in giving us instructions on Saturday. And I, the lieutenant that was giving the class, he was a Reserve Lieutenant. Very good friend of mine. He asked me about this guy. And I told him what I thought of him. I'm not going to mention his name now because he's, he's, he's highly respected because of what he did, (STAMMERS) what he did back then.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, he asked him to give the guys the definition of a NCO, uh, we all know that NCO is a noncommissioned officer. So this Master Sergeant, Infantry Chief said, the NCO is the eyes and ears of the Commanding Officer. Anything that they Commanding Officer does not see or hear, that NCO is supposed to report it to the Commanding Officer.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And (STAMMERS) they did just that. Now, as I was going up in ranks I felt that (BACKGROUND NOISE) the officer saw fit to put stripes on my arm. Because I can do, I'm doing the job. And the less the commanding officer see of me the better it is. (BACKGROUND NOISE) But that's what this guy's definition of an NCO.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And other things (STAMMERS) the other fellow, the camp is named after him, he, he told the captain at Earle, New Jersey, when he reported in up there that he's a Black rebel. And he hate all Yankees, Black and White. And they had one court marital of my 24 years in the Marine Corps on account of him.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) He talked the commanding officer into giving me a court martial for disobedience of orders. I had a job to do, I did my job. But they come around and (STAMMERS) this thing, (STAMMERS) bitter pill about it. And I just, there's so many things that went on that (STAMMERS) I'll die hating this person. And biting my, I don't bite my tongue about it. And very few guys, Marines, that came about the time that I did will say the same thing about.

INTERVIEWER: How do you think your service in the Marine Corps has affected you?

AL BANKER: It, it prepared me for civilian life, like, I, uh, I learned a lot. The correspondence courses that I took in the Marine Corps helped me a great deal. Uh, when I retired from the Marine Corps I was fortunate enough to get a job with Grumman Aerospace Corporation on Long Island. I, uh, started out as a security guard and recently promoted, was recently (STAMMERS) promoted to, uh, sergeants and then to lieutenant.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, believe it or not, I was one of the first, first lieutenants that Grumman had (LAUGH) in their Security Department. And, uh, if I might say here that, uh, being first, sometimes is good, sometimes it's bad. Uh, we get a lot of flack from the Whites. They don't like taking orders from you. But I gave orders. I didn't, I didn't, uh, discriminate to anyone.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, then from that, I, uh, became a senior officer, a lieutenant, and I wore ht uniform for about 13 years and then after that I became a security officer where I (STAMMERS) civilian clothes. And my job then was to go around inspecting the engineers. I traveled around the United States to various plants where we had contracts, government contracts.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Uh, I had highly classified clearances to go around in and check them out. And I did a bang up job of that, too. Because, uh, (LAUGH) I recall a, the Defense Department was giving an inspection one time and, uh, we went and there was one of the engineering area and the, uh, inspector, the government inspector introduced me to this Chinese engineer and he said, this is, uh, this is Mr. Banker.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) You know Mr. Banker? He said, oh yeah, yeah, I know Mr. Banker. (MAKES NOISE) How you doing, Al? I say, I'm doing fine. So, after we left this office the inspector said to me, (STAMMERS) you had to give him hell once or twice, didn't you? (LAUGH) I said, I certainly did. He said, I could tell from the way he answered me when I asked if he knew you.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Uh, when I didn't, I, I, I'm a (STAMMERS) I believe in being fair with everyone. And, and some of those guys, uh, back to your question, some of those, uh, uh, Afro American drill instructors were not fair in some of the things that they did. And I saw a lot of things that they did and a lot of those kids would come to me and tell me about it. See, uh...

INTERVIEWER: Why do you think that was?

AL BANKER: Why? Because I'll tell you why. Because these guys (STAMMERS) , they, they, they played right into the hands of the White officers. They helped discrimination. They helped discrimination. There's one... (TECHNICAL)

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) (STAMMERS) To get ahead. And if I (STAMMERS) I'll tell you, I stood before General Homer Litzenberg in Japan and he was (STAMMERS) asking me some questions and I knew I was right. But he was trying to make me wrong. And I said, no sir, I'm (STAMMERS) so and so and so and so. And, and one of my, one of my cooks was standing behind me and he kept pointing up to the sky to tell me that the general had a star.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) I didn't care. 'Cause I knew I was right. See, but these guys, they, (STAMMERS) they play up to them. And I didn't play up to them. If I, (STAMMERS) if I'm wrong, I say that, (STAMMERS) I stand for (STAMMERS) , I'm wrong. And I'm right, I'm going to stay, (STAMMERS) stand what I'm saying. And I never did anything wrong, I never told my troops to do some, some things that I wouldn't do myself.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) I had a drill instructor would say, don't do as I do. Do as I say do. That's not a leader. A leader has to set an example. My dad set an example for me to walk in his footsteps. He didn't do nothing wrong and I did the same thing with my kids, I did the same thing with troops in the Marine Corps. I will not tell them to do anything that I wouldn't do myself.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) But some of these drill instructors that we had after the White Marines left, they did a lot of things that they wouldn't do. But they'd have other kids to do it themselves. And some of these kids would come back to me and tell me about it. So, up at Earle, New Jersey, uh, Huff and Johnson was up there with me. It was where I got my court martial because of Johnson.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) Uh, they, they said that I was the, I was a thorn because I, enlisted men would, the junior enlisted men, uh, would come to me when they would (STAMMERS) had a problem. And, I had ways of punishing them if they did something wrong. I never take them up to the captain or the colonel. But that's what they were, that's their way of doing things. There are other ways of discipline. And you get respect from them.

INTERVIEWER: How do you feel about having been a part of the of legacy that, uh, of the Montford experience of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ?

AL BANKER: I feel real proud of it. I feel real proud of it. I, I, I, uh, (STAMMERS) I said to Sally, all of a sudden, I mean, uh, and she (LAUGH) called me a big celebrity (BACKGROUND NOISE) and, uh, the recent write-ups I've gotten, uh, from one, (STAMMERS) last year at Camp Lejeune, our convention at Camp Lejeune, uh, I was interviewed by (SOUNDS LIKE) Oslo County, uh, newspaper.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And, uh, I told the reporter that was interviewing me that the, the Drill Instructors, when they drove us in to Montford Point, uh, the cemetery's outside (STAMMERS) , outside the gate and the, said to me, uh, the drill instructor said, uh, we're going to bury you here if you guys don't make it through boot camp. So, when I was telling her this, she say, you know, that's a good point.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) She said, uh, she told the photographer, she said, let's, uh, do this interview tomorrow and we'll meet at the cemetery. So here I am in, standing in (STAMMERS) a cemetery, (STAMMERS) , uh, tombstones all around me. And they interviewed me and, and they took the picture and here I'm standing.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) (STAMMERS) They took pictures of me in the cemetery, so, she said, that's a good backup for, for your story. But, it, it put the fear of God in you and, uh, you did the right thing. And we volunteered for it. That's the main thing. We volunteered and I find also that when you get a person to volunteer for something, you get better out of them than if you would, go and say, you, you and you. See? You, you (STAMMERS) get something out of them.

INTERVIEWER: I have one, another question for you. How do you think that the, the training and the experience that you received in the Marine Corps prepared you for your life's paths afterwards?

AL BANKER: I (STAMMERS) got quite a bit out of it. I got quite a bit out of it. One thing, I am respected every place I go. The Marine Corps taught me that. Discipline, uh, (STAMMERS) in anything I do, my work as a civilian, if it wasn't for the (STAMMERS) , my Marine Corps background and training, I never would have advanced to the position that I held in, (STAMMERS) in Grumman.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) In the civilian world. Uh, trust. Uh, confidence. Honesty. All those things help. Uh, if I had to do it over again, I would, number one, uh, further my education. I did graduate from high school and had a course in, uh, business, uh, administration. But I would have gone further. But with the education I did have, I do have, it, it helped me to get where I am today. And I don't regret going into the Marine Corps.

AL BANKER: (CONTINUED) And being one of the first Afro Americans in the Marine Corps and making history. It wasn't easy. And we had problems and there's still a few wrinkles in the sheet that have to ironed out. But, sometimes, a lot of problems we bring it up on (STAMMERS) on ourselves. But I always try to stay ahead of the, when I see a problem, I go the other way. I do go and get involved in. There are times when I have to get involved. (TECHNICAL)


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