BERLIN, Wis. --
“When the war started I got in the wrong line. I wanted to join the Air Corps.”
One wrong line led to another and Sgt. Michael E. Banks, a native and resident of Berlin, Wis., found himself part of an elite group – the Marine Raiders.
Banks was one of few volunteers during a pivotal time in history. According to the National WWII Museum, only 38.8 percent of U.S. service men and women volunteered their service during World War II.
“If you get in a battle, you want to go with the best trained men,” Banks said of his decision to volunteer for the Marine Raiders, a special operations force designed to conduct amphibious raids and guerilla operations behind enemy lines. They were a strictly volunteer force, handpicked from among the top Marines and recruits. They were considered to be an “elite force within an elite force,” but to Michael Banks, they were just Marines.
“There weren’t two types of Marines. If you were a Marine, you were a Marine and that was enough,” said Banks.
The Raiders were a key force in the Pacific, helping turn the tide against the Japanese forces. Banks took part in six different island campaigns and was awarded three Purple Heart medals from injuries received during the war.
“Who ever thought I’d be 93 years old telling people about the war,” said Banks.
Though the memories can be painful, Banks has shared a few of his stories from the war with his family over the years. Banks’ daughter, Cindy Skipchak, is very proud of her dad and has encouraged him to share some of his stories.
“You were there so you can tell them about things that hopefully they will never have to experience,” said Cindy to her dad. “That’s history. That’s part of a glorious past.”
On one of the islands, Banks and his fellow Raiders were pinned down in a fox hole for three days. The Raiders operated in small, eight to ten man squads, easily outnumbered by the enemy.
“There were enough of them to keep us busy,” said Banks.
Cindy asked her dad what was going through his head during that experience. Did he think he would survive to share those stories?
“You don’t think about it,” said Banks. “You’re just glad it’s over. When you’re getting shot at and it’s over with, you’re glad!”
Banks and his then future wife, Georgina, both enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943. Georgina was a huge support system for Banks during their time in the Marine Corps and helped him move on with life after the war. When they returned home to Wisconsin, she helped him get a job as a technical illustrator, despite losing the vision in his right eye.
As the topic turned to Banks’ wife, he looked up fondly at an old photograph hanging on the wall. It was a photo of Georgina in her Marine Corps uniform. She passed away in 2009.
Although they only spent a few years in the Marine Corps, they kept the Corps close to their hearts. Georgina was an active member of the Women Marines Association while Michael helped contribute to the U.S. Marine Raider Association.
“Ready to go anywhere, do anything,” said Banks. “If you don’t believe that, you’re not a Marine.”