Col. Ernest Bankey, Jr.: - June 13, 2009
Maybe you heard about a radio call by an American fighter pilot in World War II that began, "I've got 40 Messerschmitt cornered..." The fact is, that was not exactly the way it was worded, according to the retired Air Force Colonel Ernie Bankey who became an ace-in-a-day soon after making that famous radio call.
Born on Aug. 28, 1920, in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Toledo. A pilot friend-of-a-friend from Germany interested Bankey in flying, and starting at about eight years old, he went through years of building model airplanes. He was also the only youngster to win the All-American Soap Box Derby in both 1935 and 1936 in Toledo, Ohio.
Bankey's most memorable flight - and the one with the now famous quote - was on Dec. 27, 1944, during the "Battle of the Bulge," Germany's last major World War II attack. Bankey was flying his patched and battered P-51 Mustang, "Lucky Lady VII." According to Bankey, "We were scheduled for a rhubarb' looking for targets of opportunity. I was flying with the 385th, but I was leading the 383rd squadron that day. I was a captain, and known in both squadrons." "I saw this whole gaggle of (Focke-Wulf radial-engine) FW 190s. They were flying with the sun behind them, a fatal mistake. So I dove down on that line, intending to cut into the end of it. I kept after them, and we got down pretty close to treetop levelat least steeple-level, because I was glancing where am I at on the ground. I was able to trigger-in on one." That was the fifth victory that day, making Bankey one of those rare "ace-in-a-day" fighter pilots. Bankey was flying an inline engine P-51, and had not noticed about 25 inline engine planes behind him. The Germans ahead of him, looking back, thought that Bankey was a P-51 leading another 25 P-51s. Actually, the planes following Bankey, he soon realized, were German inline (Messerschmitt) Me 109s!
Bankey was alone, sandwiched between two groups, each of about 25 German fighters! This is when Bankey got on his radio and said, "This is Sunkist Two. I've got 50 Jerries cornered over Bonn. Will share same with any P-51s in the vicinity. See me at smokestack level. Over and out." In the ensuing melee, he shared one more victory with another P-51, for a total of five and a half victories on one mission. For this mission, he earned the unofficial title of "The Tiger of Bonn."
As of Dec. 1, 1946, mission reports credit Bankey with 10 and a half air-destroyed, one probable, five ground-destroyed, and five ground-damaged enemy aircraft. In addition, he is credited with the destruction of 44 locomotives.
Bankey retired from the USAF at SAC Headquarters, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, in 1968, as a Colonel, and lived at Newbury Park, California, with "Ginny," his "one and only for 66 years." until his death. He leaves two sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A celebration of Bankeys life will begin at 1:00 p.m. Monday, June 15, 2009, in the Chapel of the Islands at Conejo Mountain Memorial Park in Camarillo. Inurnment with military honors will follow the service.
Lillian Ruth Kontak Bankey