Resident, 92, still has fond memories of WWII years
Feb 10, 2013 (Menafn - St. Joseph News-Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --You can tell Lawrence Banks is a proud World War II veteran before you enter his Midtown apartment building.
A tattered American flag flies from the antenna on his Chevy pickup. A World War II veteran sticker decorates the bumper.
"I loved the service. Everything I wear is World War II: caps, jackets, anything I can get with WWII on it," said the 92-year-old Mr. Banks. He needs the help of a walker and collects canes, but his handshake is still strong and steady. His smile comes easily, too.
Mr. Banks grew up in segregated times and served in a segregated Army, but none of it scarred his heart with bitterness. He loves people and he loved serving his country.
"I just never had any bad words for people," he said. "Once in awhile you'll find a jackass who'll say something smart, but I tell him, 'I love you, too' and go on. Catch him later and he's, 'How are you, Mr. B?'"
On the move
Mr. Banks was born in Oilton, Okla., in 1920. He was raised in nearby Salupa, where his mother and father provided for their seven children by sharecropping and chopping cotton. When Mr. Banks was old enough, he went to work, too. That's why he only got as far as the sixth grade.
"We moved from one place to another in Oklahoma. Every year we'd be on the move, following the work," he said.
Oklahoma was pretty racist in those days, he remembered. There were restrooms and drinking fountains side by side, one for blacks and one for whites. If you got caught using the drinking fountain or restrooms designated for whites, you could face jail time, or worse.
"We never did in my family. We always went by the rules that they had," he said.
Blacks couldn't eat in a restaurant either, he remembered. You either had to eat in the back or take carryout. But that never bothered him.
"Really, we ate better than the people in the front, because we had black cooks and stuff. They'd eat more big steaks and stuff, good ones, than they would sell up in the front," Mr. Banks said.
Mr. Banks got drafted into the Army right before Christmas in 1942. By then he had moved to St. Joseph and found work at the packing house.
He found the military segregated. He was assigned to an all-black quartermaster unit, where his job was to truck supplies and provisions to the troops over the Ledo and Burma roads from India into China and back.
The military may have been segregated, but Mr. Banks found no segregation in war. African and British and American troops all traveled the same road. They waved and smiled at each other as they drove by each other. They gambled together, worked together and broke bread together, too.
"Everybody was with everybody mostly. Everything went good with us. We all ate together, you get in line right with everybody," he said. "You had on your uniform, you was a solider."
A smile and
a kind heart
Nothing in his military experience left him with bitter feelings. Nothing in his 92 years, really. A smile and a kind heart kept the hatred and anger out.
Mr. Banks retired from Missouri Western State University, where he worked in security and maintenance. He never attended classes there, but he put two of his daughters through school there.
He was even the grand marshal in the Missouri Western State University parade one year.
On his apartment wall there are framed photos, signed with birthday wishes from presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He respects them both.
In St. Joseph now, far away from the days in Oklahoma, many people respect and love him. He's affectionately known to many as Mr. B.
"Every dog and his brother knows me, and I am really loved in this town," Mr. Banks said. "I have learned how to carry myself in the position to be loved."
Alonzo Weston can be reached
Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.
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