ERNEST G. "ERNIE" BANASAU, Jr.
Patriot, Chapter 1919
Ernie is proud of his Native American roots and his
long family history of military service to the nation.
He is descended from a Chiricahua Apache grandfather who was a
wrangler for the U.S. Cavalry at Fort Clark, Texas in the 1930’s, and then
went on to serve as an artilleryman in the Pacific during WWII.
At least one earlier family member had served as an Indian Scout
for the U.S. Cavalry during the campaigns of the late 1800’s in the
Ernie’s father was a career Air Force NCO who, during WWII, was a gunner
on a B-24 flying long range Anti-Submarine missions over the Atlantic,
during which he was credited with shooting down three German flying boats
for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Ernie is a veteran
combat infantryman who, upon being wounded in action in Vietnam in 1968,
then survived a perilous nighttime “dustoff” extraction under fire.
This is his Purple Heart story.
Ernest G. Banasau Jr. was born in Del Rio, Texas, in 1946
and he grew up in an Air Force family.
He went through public schools during his father’s assignments at
Landsberg AFB, Germany and Wheelus AFB near Tripoli in North Africa.
He graduated with the Class of 1965 from Jefferson High School in
San Antonio, Texas. He then attended Southwest Texas State College at San
Marcos for a time, but soon received his draft notice.
He entered active duty in February 1967 and after Basic
Training and Infantry Advanced Individual Training was ordered to Vietnam.
Ernie arrived in-country in July 1967 and was assigned to Company
A, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division. He soon became the
1st Platoon RTO (radio telephone operator).
I was with Company A in two major battles, the Battle for Dak To in
November 1967, and in TET-68 in January and February 1968.
I was wounded during the evening of February 7th near
Kontum City in Kontum Province.
We came in contact with a dug in North Vietnamese
Army (NVA) Company on Hill 761.
The squad leader of 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon was killed in
the initial contact and E-4 Adams was then hit in the chest by three AK
I was the third person hit that evening with an AK round
to my right back shoulder area. Later, at the WIA collection point there was
great difficulty in getting helicopter casualty evacuation, first because
TET fighting was going on throughout the country and also because we were in
thick jungle terrain and the tall trees required special equipment to
extract the wounded. Added to all that, we remained under enemy fire
throughout the area.
An Air Force helicopter from Pleiku Air Base came
to attempt the mission but in the darkness mistakenly hovered above an enemy
The dug in NVA had a 51 caliber heavy machine gun and the
chopper was shot down in flames.
As luck would have it, an Army huey, “Dustoff 30,” was at
the Ben Het Special Forces Camp at the time and upon learning that the Air
Force helicopter had gone down, immediately volunteered to come to our aid.
Dustoff 30 accompanied by an escorting gunship team,
“Crocodile 6,” arrived overhead about midnight and Dustoff pulled me out.
Although I’ll be forever grateful for them saving my
life, it sure wasn’t pretty. Our Medics had called for the litter basket to
be lowered to take out the badly wounded Adams first, but they sent down the
jungle penetrator chair instead.
Adams couldn’t be put on the chair, NVA rounds were
whizzing through the collection point and the Medics were screaming for some
one of the other wounded, just anyone, to get onto chair.
But, everyone was frozen in place, nobody was moving.
I finally got up the nerve to make a move, I got on the
chair and Dustoff 30 started pulling me up. What I didn’t like was they kept
their landing lights on me as they were pulling me up.
The enemy was firing AK’s at me as I was screaming for
the crew to shut off the lights. When he pulled me aboard, the crew chief
accidentally stuck a finger into my bullet wound.
I was bleeding badly on the flight to the Ben Het Special
Forces Camp and the Medics thought I had been hit in the legs because I was
sitting in a big pool of blood. I was later told that I had lost two liters
Early next morning I was in the Operating Room of
the 71st Evac Hospital in Pleiku when I was told that three of the four Air
Force helicopter crew members that had been shot down had been rescued and
were being treated along with me in the Operating Room.
The fourth crewman had died when the chopper rolled over
on him when it hit the ground.
I learned some added details 35 years later,
meeting CW4 Joe Dienlin,“ Dustoff 30” for the first time since that fateful
night. He and his crew knew the Air Force helicopter had been shot down but
nonetheless determined to attempt the mission when they heard of our
situation on the ground.
They preferred to fly a night mission because they could
see where the enemy’s green tracer fire was coming from.
They always flew in the company of “Crocodile 6” with
those two gunships providing cover while Dustoff 30 was making an
As I was being winched up, Crocodile 6 was calling for
Dustoff 30 to “cut the cable” because of all the ground fire they were
receiving, especially from the 51 caliber machine gun position. I asked him
if they hadn’t taken off with me still hanging and he said that they had.
The crew chief had called out “clear” over the headset
and he thought I was in the chopper when really the crew chief only meant I
was clear of the tree tops. So, away we went at 90 knots in the darkness
with me dangling just above the trees hanging on in a penetrator chair with
my one good arm and no safety belt while still being shot at, all the while
with Crocodile 6
yelling for Dustoff to cut the cable.
He said he had cut the cable one time and swore he would
never ever do that again.
Not only did he save my life with that daring rescue, but
he also saved my life by not cutting the cable.
The remainder of Ernie’s time in Vietnam was comparatively
less eventful and he rotated back to the United States in July 1968, was
discharged in December 1968 and returned to school at Southwest Texas State
in San Marcos, enrolling for the Spring Semester in January 1969.
Upon graduation in 1976, he was commissioned Second Lieutenant
through the University of Texas Army ROTC program.
He re-entered active duty on October 29, 1976, and now says,
That was the start of my
career as an Army officer.
This career carried me through two tours of duty in
West Germany and protecting our Nation and Europe during the Cold War with
the Soviet Union.
I was there when President Reagan was successful to have
the Berlin Wall taken down before he left office.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, I was responsible for
processing all deployed troops in route to the Saudi Arabian desert for the
first Gulf War.
As it was, I was deployed again into a war zone in April
1991 as part of the follow on force to deal with all the issues related to
the end of the war.
I worked with the senior staff of “Operation Provide
Comfort” to provide security and humanitarian needs of the Kurdish people
fleeing Sadam’s forces in Northern Iraq along the Turkish and Iranian
This was a joint operation with coalition allies,
British, Italians, Spanish, Germans, and Turkish troops.
Additionally, the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines worked side
by side with each other to coordinate all required support and security in
Besides the security mission, we were responsible for
providing food, tents, sanitation, and medical needs of the Kurdish people.
We established the Northern No Fly Zone and held this
position until the start of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Upon completion of the deployment, I returned to
Germany, completed my last overseas tour there, returned to the U.S. and
Texas in 1992 to Fort Sam Houston and retired from the Army with the rank of
Major on August 31, 1994.
After retirement, Ernest Banasau Jr. started an Emergency
Roadside Service in Northern Hays County and Southwestern Travis County.
He sold that business in 2000 and then worked at the University of
Texas Army ROTC as the Supply Officer.
He says, I
spent the next six years with my former ROTC unit and helped in the training
of our future Army Officers.
Many of my former Cadets served proudly during the Iraq
War and in Afghanistan in our War on Terrorism.
In 2002, Ernie was appointed to the University of Texas,
Stadium Veterans Committee, for which he coordinates with the active duty,
National Guard and Reserves for their support of a veterans’ appreciation
event at one of the Longhorns’ football games each year. He was also
involved with the 2008-2009 addition of the “Veterans Plaza” as part of the
North End Zone expansion at the stadium.
He has most
recently been appointed to the board of directors for “Honor Flight Austin”
that is now projecting a mid-May date for their first flight of a plane-load
of WWII veterans to visit the monuments in Washington, D.C.
Ernie is a past Commander of our MOPH Chapter 1919, and a past Commander of
MOPH Region V.
Currently, he serves Chapter 1919 as the Americanism Officer and this month
PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly
salutes Patriot Ernest G. Banasau Jr.