MWSA Interview with Steve Banko


While philosophers have long written about the might of the pen and the sword. Steve Banko has wielded both in service to country and community.

After 16 months in combat in Vietnam. Steve returned to home where he continued his legacy of service in the trenches and command posts of government at every level. He has served state assemblymen and state senators. a presidential candidate, and a mayor before retiring in 2010.

His first person accounts of Vietnam combat have been published across a broad spectrum of national publications from the Wall Street Journal to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Steve is included in the Marlo Thomas compilation. Right Words at the Right Time. Vol. II. He was a contributor to the National Public Radio feature series “This I Believe.” His writing has been recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine, the Nelson Algren Short Fiction Competition at the Chicago Tribune, and by Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge.

However. Steve is most proud of the 1994 Terry Anderson Award for his courage to comeback from alcoholism and post-combat depression.

Serving in the United States Army in Vietnam. Steve was wounded six times, including four gunshot wounds. He was decorated for combat heroism seven times and his awards include two Silver Stars, the nation’s 3rd highest combat decoration, four Bronze Stars for Valor and four Purple Hearts.

MWSA: Why did you become an author, Steve?

SB: When I returned home from Vietnam. I was one of a few guys in my crowd who actually fought in Vietnam. Most of the rest stayed in school and were never drafted. As a result, most guys didn’t want to listen to my ravings about the war and shut such conversations down almost as soon as they began. I turned to writing about my feelings, my anger, my pride and my frustration. So for almost fifty years. I’ve been writing essays, memoirs, accounts, and opinions about my war and our warriors. I have spoken to scores of audiences across the country about Vietnam and its veterans. That I should write a novel about the war seemed a natural progression from such writings.

MWSA: Why did you choose to join us?

SB: In seeking new ways to discuss my novel earlier this year (2017). I encountered MWSA in an email. I recognized a group of similarly-minded authors as a natural place to talk about my book and to learn about the motives and the research and the work produced by other military authors.

MWSA: Perhaps it’s obvious to many of our members, but we always like to ask, why did you choose this genre?

SB: I have always been counseled and taught to write about what you know. During sixteen months as a combat soldier and a combat leader. I saw firsthand the good, the bad and the ugly of war. As fewer and fewer Americans entertain thoughts of national service and fewer still ever service in the armed forces. I felt it important to get my thoughts about my war into the hands of as many people as possible.

Other books …

Memories of War. Dreams of Peace; Echoes of the Vietnam War. (1998) and For No Good Reason (2016). “Memories…” is a short collection of essays and speech excerpts. But in addition to my books. I would like to mention a speech that I did in 2009 earned the Cicero Foundation’s Grand Award as speech of the year. The speech was about PTSD among combat veterans.

This book …

In the Sixties, simple mistakes could have grave consequences. The central character. Josh Duffy, makes one such mistake and pays an incredible price. One unfortunate encounter with the nuances of higher education realities of the time and he is thrust into an alien world of blood, death, and fire. It is an upside down world where the usual mores don’t function. It is a world where killing is celebrated and compassion scorned. It is a world to which Duffy must adapt if he is to survive.

The book follows him as he struggles with the enemy, with his leaders, and with his conscience as he evolves from reluctant soldier to committed leader.
If you ever wonder why soldiers come back from combat forever changed and irreversibly damaged … if you wonder what causes this post-traumatic stress disorder we hear so much about … if you lived through the Sixties and walked the razor’s edge of conscription, this book might provide some clarity. It is the journey for sanity to the depths of madness and on to a path toward redemption.

So many of the nuances of the military are unknown to the civilian population. One such nuance the rotation of senior officers into and out of combat commands. The purpose of such rotation was to get the coveted combat command on to an officer’s resume as a prerequisite for promotion and career advancement. Duffy sees the affects of this “ticket punching” up close and personal when his unit is led by an officer with his eyes focused beyond battlefield realities. In his haste to secure a reputation for himself, the commander sets in motion events that lead to the needless destruction of Duffy’s unit. Outnumbered and outgunned. Duffy and his men fight a furious battle of survival in the book’s climactic chapter. The valor and the sorrow of men in life-and-death struggles are seen in this chapter. Far removed from the traditional norms of patriotism and nationalism. Duffy and his men fight on for what soldiers have always fought. They fought for each other.

This time Duffy’s wounds earn him his way out of Vietnam but he find he’s not finished with combat just yet. He’s confronted with the anti-war attitudes that permeated the times and the campuses when he uses his real life experience as the subject for his first venture into a creative writing course. He thought he would leave the fools behind but realizes there is no escape.

The term PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder – is bandied about often but understand much less. The journey Duffy takes from sanity to the depths of madness and on to a path toward redemption might make the concept of PTSD a little clearer. It is said that one who has seen war continues to see it. This book tells is why that’s true. The soldier returned from the fight is often told to “forget about it; it’s over.” But for him. it’s over … and over … and over

[Copied from the Fall 2017 issue of MWSA Dispatches magazine]