Remembering Dorchester: Banks honors uncle, Korean War P.O.W.

Sgt. Robert Banks was honored with a parade through Cambridge when he returned home from a North Korean prisoner of war camp. He is seen with City Commissioner Charles E. Cornish, left, and State Legion Commander J. Edward Walter, inset.

CAMBRIDGE — Dion Banks celebrated Veterans’ Day by honoring his granduncle, who appeared on the front page of the Banner in 1953.
“I could not let Veterans’ Day 2019 go by without paying homage to a ‘Great American Hero’ that I also have the honor and privilege to call Uncle Bobbie, the brother of my late grandfather Leroy ‘Skeet’ Banks,” Mr. Banks wrote in a statement online.

Robert Banks enlisted in the U.S. Army on Jan. 14, 1948 at the age of 17. After completing basic training in San Antonio, Texas, he was sent to Honshu, Japan.

His duties led him to fight in North Korea, where he was one of 500 infantrymen to be captured after holding off a Communist advance for several days. He remained a prisoner of war for 32 months and 13 days before being released with the signing of the Armistice in 1953.
In the early days of the Korean War, numerous Americans and other United Nations troops were captured by the North Koreans during their overwhelming advance down the peninsula. Conditions in their camps were later revealed to have been very harsh.

Sgt. Banks received the following medals: Occupational Medal of Japan, Korean Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Bronze Camp Stars.

The Banner’s issue of Aug. 26, 1953, quoted the soldier saying, “I’m proud to be home.” Citizens lined the curbs as a parade in his honor, led by State Trooper William Zumbrum moved down Washington and Race streets to the Municipal Building, where Mayor Russell P. Smith Jr. welcomed the 23-year-old Sgt. Banks. The parade concluded at the Elks Home on Pine Street, where Commissioner Charles E. Cornish gave an official greeting. State Legion Commander J. Edward Walter was also on hand to thank Sgt. Banks on behalf of Maryland Legionnaires.

But no reunion was more heartfelt than when the prison camp survivor was embraced in Baltimore by his mother, Lillie Banks and father William, who had not seen their son since 1948.

“That is one of our very own,” Annie Askins said, “whom we should never forget for serving our country. Thank you, Dion Banks, for sharing information such as this.”

“Thanks, cousin, for sharing my grandfather’s legacy,” Kevin Banks wrote. “He would tell us so many stories about his P.O.W. days.”