Area veterans recall their experiences
North Carolina ranks eighth in the United States for the highest population of veterans living within its borders, with more than 775,000 former servicemen and servicewomen calling the Tar Heel State home. That’s not surprising considering all the military installations in this state. Many people who have served have stayed behind and called North Carolina home.
However, many people who have lived here also answered the nation’s call for service.
Frank Smith, a native of Enfield and currently a resident of Greenville, was one of these people. Coming from a family of 10, all seven of his brothers served in the military, with two older brothers serving in World War II and another brother receiving a wound during the Korean War. His three sisters married military members.
Smith enlisted in the Navy and served from September of 1959 through September of 1963 as an aviation machinist mate. He worked on aircraft engines and once, while stationed in San Diego, did some work on the USS Yorktown, currently a floating museum at Patriot’s Point in Charleston, S.C.
“When I joined, I was a country boy,” Smith said. “I had never been on a train, stayed in a hotel or flew on a plane. I got to do a lot of things that I never had the opportunity do before joining the Navy.”
For Smith, the most memorable part of his time in the service came in October of 1962.
“I was standing on Midway Island when we got the call that we were going to go into it. There were missiles in Cuba and President Kennedy put us all on standby,” Smith said, “I like to think that JFK called up Nikita Khrushchev and said, ‘Hey Nicky, you don’t want me to send Frank Smith down there to take care of business do you? Now get them missiles off that island!’ At least that’s how I tell the story.”
Fifty years later, Smith is still very proud of his service and is active in veterans affairs as an active member of American Legion Post 39 in Greenville. He has served as the vice commander for the State of North Carolina for one year and District Command for four years
“(It) always makes you proud to know I served my country, but it makes you distressed to see some of the directions our country is heading in with some of our politicians,” Smith said.
Jesse Banks, a resident of the N.C. Veterans Home in Kinston, is originally from New Bern. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he worried that he might have been drafted. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and joined the U.S. Navy.
“My father served in the Navy in the first World War,” Banks said. “I felt that if he could stand it, I could handle it too.”
Banks served as an engineer on several destroyers and frigates in the North Atlantic on submarine hunting duty. He smiled when he recalled his ships were successful in their duty.
“If I had to say that we operated out of any particular port city, it would be Boston,” Banks said. “We would go out of the naval yards and into the ocean off the coast of North America. The Germans were sending their submarines out to disrupt the war effort and it was our job to find them and sink them.”
Banks, 94, is very proud of what the Navy gave him.
“I had the opportunity to go to engineering school while I was in the service,” he said. “The cost of that was that I had to give up all of my liberties (free time). But the next day, I could go down to the machine shop and practice by hand what I learned the night before. It gave me a lot of great experiences that I used later on in life.”