Ernie Bankey was born on August 28, 1920, in Cleveland, Ohio. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on April 1, 1941, and served as an aerial gunnery instructor until entering the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces in September 1942. Bankey was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings on July 28, 1943, and after completing P-38 Lightning training, he joined the 383rd Fighter Squadron of the 364th Fighter Group in September 1943, deploying with the unit to England in February 1944. Lt Bankey was credited with destroying 1 enemy aircraft in aerial combat plus 1 probable before transferring to the 385th Fighter Squadron of the 364th Fighter Group during the summer of 1944. He transitioned into the P-51 Mustang and was credited with destroying 1 more in the air plus 1 probable before moving up to the staff of Headquarters 364th Fighter Group in December 1944. While flying on the group staff, Capt Bankey was credited with destroying another 7.5 enemy aircraft in the air, for a total of 9.5 destroyed in the air, 2 probables, and 8 destroyed on the ground while strafing enemy airfields. He returned to the U.S. at the end of the war, and left active duty and joined the Air Force Reserve on April 18, 1946. Maj Bankey was recalled to active duty beginning on March 15, 1953, and then completed Pilot Refresher Training at Graham AB, Florida, followed by Instructor Pilot School at Craig AFB, Alabama. He served as an instructor pilot and operations officer before serving at the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Weapons Center from July 1957 to September 1958. His next assignment was as a Guided Missile Operations Officer with the 576th Strategic Missile Squadron at Vandenberg AFB, California, from September 1958 to June 1960, followed by service on the staff of Headquarters 1st Missile Division (renamed 1st Strategic Aerospace Division in July 1961) at Vandenberg from June 1960 to April 1963. His next assignment was as a Missile Test Evaluation Officer with Headquarters Strategic Air Command at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, from April 1963 to November 1966. Col Bankey's final assignment was as Deputy Chief and then Chief of the Evaluation and Capabilities Division with the 3902nd Support Squadron at Offutt AFB from November 1966 until his retirement from the Air Force on March 1, 1968. Ernie Bankey died on June 15, 2009, and was buried at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park in Camarillo, California.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against
an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-51 Fighter Airplane
assigned to Headquarters, 364th Fighter Group, EIGHTH Air Force, in
aerial combat against enemy forces on 27 December 1944, in support of
beleaguered Allied ground forces during the Battle of the Bulge. On this
date Captain Bankey became an ACE in a single day, shooting down FIVE
enemy aircraft and assisting in the destruction of another. Captain
Bankey's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the
highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit
upon himself, the 8th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.