Brigadier General Bankson T. Holcomb, USMC
April 14 1908 – October 5, 2000
Bankson T. Holcomb Jr. was born on April 14, 1908, in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of prominent insurance businessman Bankson T. Holcomb Sr. and his wife Julian Newton Holcomb. His family moved to China in 1921 and Bankson Jr. attended Peking American High School within the American Legation.
Following his 17th birthday, impressed by the local Marine detachment, Banks decided to enlist in the Marine Corps in April 1925. Holcomb served as enlisted man for next six months and was decorated with Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal for his service.
His superior recommended him for Naval Academy Preparatory School in San Diego, California. However Holcomb failed the Ancient history exam and was transferred to the private Virginia Preparatory School in Hampton Roads. He was successful the second time and was admitted to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in June 1927. Four years later, Holcomb graduated with the Class of 1931 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in June 1931. Because of his knowledge of Chinese language and interest in Orient, he was nicknamed “Chink” by his classmates. Banks was also active in the track, cross country running team, Gymkhana or was a member of radio club.
Following his graduation, Holcomb was sent to the Basic School within Marine Barracks Quantico, Virginia, for the Basic Officer Course. Holcomb graduated from the course and subsequently was assigned to the Marine Barracks at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He served in this assignment until the beginning of 1934, when he was transferred back to China. Holcomb was appointed platoon leader in the 4th Marine Regiment under Colonel John C. Beaumont and was stationed at Shanghai. While serving there, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in November 1934 and subsequently assigned to the Chinese language advanced course at the American Embassy in Peking.
Holcomb was transferred back to the United States in 1937 and assigned to Marine Barracks Quantico, where he was a company commander. He was promoted to the rank of captain in January 1939 and later transferred to Washington, D.C., where he was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Captain Holcomb was subsequently sent to Japan, where he was attached to the American Embassy in Tokyo. Holcomb’s purpose for the Japanese service was aligned to the ONI advanced Japanese language and cultural program.
Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain Holcomb was transferred to Hawaii and was assigned to Station Hypo, under the command of Commander Joseph Rochefort. As an experienced linguist, he translated enemy messages and performed intelligence work. Holcomb served in this capacity until early 1942, when he was assigned to the staff of Carrier Division 2 under the command of Vice Admiral William Halsey.
He and three radio operators were assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to intercept and translate the enemy’s radio traffic. Holcomb participated in the Marshalls–Gilberts raids at the beginning of February 1942 and, for his work during the raids and the Pearl Harbor attack, he was decorated with Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”.
Holcomb subsequently returned to Station Hypo and received temporary promotion to major in May 1942. He served at Station Hypo until December 1942, when he was transferred to Chungking, China, and appointed Officer in Charge of the Communications and Intelligence Activities there. In this capacity, he also served as a member of the U.S. Naval Advisory Group and instructor for Kuomintang guerrillas. While in China, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on March 1, 1943.
In 1944, Holcomb was transferred back to the United States and assigned to the ONI’s OP-20-GZ, under the command of Commander Redfield B. Mason and worked as language officer on China/Japan Intelligence matters.
Lieutenant Colonel Holcomb returned to Pacific in the early 1945, when he was assigned as a radio intelligence and translation officer on the Task Force 58 staff under Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. He subsequently participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima and Battle of Okinawa with that command and was decorated with Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for his distinguished work during the whole duration of the war, Holcomb was also decorated with the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”.
Following the surrender of Japan in August 1945, Holcomb was participated in the occupation duties until 1948, when he was promoted to the rank of colonel, transferred back to the United States, and assigned to Marine Barracks, Norfolk Navy Yard as an intelligence officer. While stationed at Norfolk, Holcomb attended the Armed Forces Staff College and, after graduation in 1949, was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, for a brief period as the temporary commanding officer of the 5th Marine Regiment on September 1, 1949. After one month, he was relieved by Colonel Victor H. Krulak and appointed as Chief of Staff, Fleet Marine Force Pacific at Guam.
When the Korean War broke out, Holcomb was transferred to the 1st Marine Division staff and appointed the Intelligence Officer (G-2) under Major General Oliver P. Smith. He participated in the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, the Battle of Inchon or Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and in the interrogation of Chinese prisoners of war, with whom he worked with in China during World War II. Holcomb was also decorated with his second Legion of Merit for his service as 1st Division’s intelligence officer.
He was transferred back to United States due to illness in February 1951 and was sent to Bethesda Naval Hospital for recovery. After he was pronounced fit for duty, Holcomb was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff and Intelligence Officer, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic. One of his final assignments was Officer in Charge of the Intelligence Section, Headquarters Marine Corps during the summer of 1957, before he retired in January 1959. He was advanced to the rank of brigadier general on the retired list for having been specially commended in combat.
Upon his retirement from the Marine Corps, Holcomb and his wife moved to Inverness, Scotland, where he was active in the Fleet Radio Unit Pacific veterans amateur unit. Holcomb was also later active in the supporting of Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton’s book And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway — Breaking the Secrets.
Decorations: Legion of Merit with Combat “V” and gold star, Bronze Star with Combat “V”, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V”, Navy Presidential Unit Citation with star, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, Yangtze Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Base Clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with seven service stars, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three stars, National Defense Service Medal, and United Nations Korean Medal
Brigadier General Bankson T. Holcomb Jr. died on October 5, 2000.
U.S. Navy Codebreakers, Linguists and Intelligence Officers against Japan
U.S. Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association
P.S. Many of his classmates had distinguished careers and became general officers: John S. McCain Jr., Horacio Rivero Jr., Charles T. Booth, Lawson P. Ramage, Bernard F. Roeder, Frederick L. Wieseman, Frederick J. Becton, Charles B. Brooks Jr., Ernest B. Ellsworth, Wilmer E. Gallaher, Andrew J. Hill Jr., Harlan T. Johnson, Frederic S. Keeler, Edward J. O’Neill, Forsyth Massey, Berton A. Robbins, Jr., Kinlock C. Walpole, Nelson K. Brown, Austin R. Brunelli, Edward J. Dillon, Robert E. Fojt, Edward H. Forney, Lewis C. Hudson, Clifford H. Shuey or Samuel G. Taxis.