Obituary: William N. Banks / Career officer in Coast Guard, loved bridge and restoring furniture

Feb. 9, 1921 - June 6, 2014

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Retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. William Nathan Banks' military career spanned from service on a destroyer escort in World War II to being the Coast Guard's chief of operations in the Vietnam War.

He was promoted to commander in 1958 and was in charge of several Coast Guard ships during his years in the service. He was an instructor at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and later moved to command headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he participated in a security briefing for President Lyndon Johnson.

Mr. Banks, an Oakmont resident who died Friday at age 93, rarely spoke of his military service at home, said his daughter, Martha Banks Gittings of Dayton, Md.

"He was always in the moment," she said. "When he came home, it was like he came through a time warp. I never had a sense that he was in the Coast Guard except when he wore the uniform."

Her father "had a quiet, gentlemanly personality" and absorbed his share of blows -- a son who died in his 20s and two wives who preceded him in death -- and always carried on.

"He had plenty of tragedy in life, but he just had the gift of looking forward," she said. "He lived being positive no matter what happened."

Mr. Banks, a native of Tennessee, retired from the Coast Guard in 1973 after 30 years of commissioned service. His final posting was as chief of staff for Coast Guard District One overseeing New England Coast Guard activities. After his retirement, the family moved to Pittsburgh, where he was physical plant director at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland.

Besides his professional and family responsibilities, Mr. Banks made time for two of his favorite hobbies, playing bridge and restoring antique furniture. He developed expertise at both, becoming a life master in duplicate bridge and restoring furniture to commercial quality.

"He was quite the refinisher," Ms. Gittings said. "At one time, we had six or seven dining room tables. They would trade them out or sell them. That was just a really fun thing."

Mr. Banks also was active in the Navy League, the American Contract Bridge League and Oakmont Country Club.

In addition to Ms. Gittings, he is survived by a stepson, Chip Crawford of Fox Chapel; and a stepdaughter, Wendy Crawford Galleher of Charlotte, N.C.; sister Betsy Banks Stoneburner of Chattanooga, Tenn.; two grandchildren; six step-grandchildren; and seven step-great grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the English Funeral Home & Cremation Services Inc., 378 Maryland Ave., Oakmont. A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Thursday in the Ballroom at Longwood in Oakmont in Verona. Interment will be at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The family requests that memorial contributions be made to Longwood at Oakmont retirement community, 500 Route 909, Verona, PA 15147.


Steve Twedt: stwedt@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1963.

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