When Brenda Evans reached out to me to write about her mother’s military service in the Korean War, I had no idea that I had met her mother (and Brenda’s siblings) many years before. As I spoke with Brenda and her sister Donna, they asked me if I grew up in Falmouth Heights. It then hit me that Stella Banner was the Mrs. Banner who lived one street away from where I grew up! The Banners (all five) were always really good kids, which stemmed from both their parents being such good, quality people.
Little did I know back then that Mrs. Banner served her country in admirable (but humble) fashion as a flight nurse in the Korean War. At age 93 she still has the powerful presence (and look) of a person who knows how to take charge immediately and handle any given situation.
Born in Llewellyn, Pennsylvania, Stella Banner was the fifth of six children. Both her parents were from Poland. Her father spent many years in the Pennsylvania coal mines. From an early age she wanted to make nursing her profession.
Mrs. Banner began extensive training at Medical Field Service School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, then at the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. Her schooling and preparation would be of immense value in the coming months and throughout her military career.
Her persistence in learning how to fly led to her amassing over 100 solo hours in the air while stationed in Mobile, Alabama (where she met her husband John); she wanted to learn how to fly in case of an emergency.
Mrs. Banner’s flights originated in Korea, then went on to Japan, Midway, Hawaii and San Francisco, stopping along the way to refuel or to change pilots. Mrs. Banner served in both the Army Nurse Corps and Air Force Nurse Corps during the Korean War. Her flights were extremely long and required constant vigilance.
Once while on a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco with injured soldiers, the plane she was on began experiencing severe engine trouble. The pilot conveyed that the situation was “beyond the point of no return” and that things looked bleak. Displaying her immense professionalism and utilizing her training, Mrs. Banner focused on the wounded and tried not to think about the trouble. The pilot eventually landed the aircraft safely and avoided a tragic situation.
I was privy to a conversation in our meeting when Mrs. Banner’s daughter, Brenda, talked about a situation on a commercial flight years ago where her mom’s quick thinking and skills saved a man’s life. With total humility, Mrs. Banner said of her actions, “That was just automatic.”
She enjoyed a bit of celebrity status when she appeared with the 1453rd Medical Air Evacuation Group with battle casualties on Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” popular television show in 1952. The plane was loaded with GIs returning from the front and coming home from Korea. Mrs. Banner enjoyed another honor in 2017, when she visited the Korean Women’s War Memorial in Washington, DC. Her name is on the memorial.
During her military service from 1948 to 1955, Mrs. Banner comforted and bandaged the wounded; in some instances she saved lives. With no fanfare and very little recognition, she used her skills to help our troops recover from physical and emotional wounds. She did this in the humble way that she was raised and raised her family. If there was ever a special class of flight nurses in the Korean War, they would be the Stella Banners.
She was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal.
Second Lieutenant Stella E. Banner, thank you for your service to our great nation.