Austintown veteran reflects on serving 20 years in Navy
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AUSTINTOWN — When Kenneth W. Bancroft graduated from Mineral Ridge High School in 1957, he knew he was going to be drafted into the military.
What he didn’t know at the time was that he would keep re-enlisting and spend 20 years in the Navy.
“There was a draft at the time, and I decided I didn’t want to be crawling around on my belly somewhere,” he said. “I decided the Navy was a better option than the Army — and it was. It was something I never regretted and I’m proud of my time in the Navy. I got married at 18 and joined the Navy at 19.”
Before enlisting in 1958, Bancroft married his wife, Verna, and the two moved to Florida with him reporting to the Naval Air Station Whiting Field.
“We were in Florida, and I was trying to get a job at Cape Canaveral,” Bancroft said. “I didn’t get it so I signed up for another four years.”
In the Navy, Bancroft was trained to be an airplane mechanic.
He was sent to the Naval Air Station Lemoore in California, and his squadron was assigned in 1963 to the USS Ranger, which was in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War.
“You’re not scared of what’s happening or what could happen,” Bancroft said. “You have to go. You just do your job. You fix the airplanes and get them back in order and send the pilots on their way.”
Bancroft said he worked 12-hour days seven days a week while on the Ranger.
“It was exhausting,” he said. “We were out there for probably 30, 40 days straight and went to the Philippines for a week or two of rest and then go out for another 30, 40 days. All you did was work, sleep and eat.”
The work was so tiring, Bancroft said, that his sleeping quarters were three feet below the flight deck where repair work was done to the planes and he slept fine despite the loud noise.
“The only thing that woke you up was the call to work,” he said.
Bancroft said he kept re-enlisting because “I was happy in the Navy. I enjoyed it.”
Bancroft was moved in September 1965 to the USS Enterprise and stayed in the South China Sea until February 1966.
The Navy moved Bancroft to the Memphis Naval Air Station in Tennessee after that to learn to be an instructor in refrigeration, ventilation and air conditioning repair work.
“It was nice to have stability in Memphis with my family,” he said.
He stayed there until 1970 when he was moved to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland for five years where he did repair work on C-130 planes as part of an assignment for the joint chiefs of staff.
The C-130 planes would fly to submarines and send them encrypted messages, Bancroft said.
He finished his time in the Navy with a C-130 squadron at a base in Rota, Spain.
“My wife and kids went with me and it was a great experience,” Bancroft said. “It was a transportation squad, so they were flying supplies to other naval bases in Europe.”
Bancroft decided in 1978 that it was time to leave the Navy.
“I got tired of moving,” he said. “You didn’t know where you were going next. It was a good experience. We liked it, but it was time.”
Because Bancroft’s and his wife’s families were in the Mahoning Valley, they moved to Austintown and he went to work at the General Motors facility in Lordstown.
He first worked on the assembly line and then moved to the materials section, retiring in 2001.
“I retired when I was 62,” Bancroft said. “I figure that was enough. We’ve enjoyed retirement. We’ve been to Hawaii a half dozen times.”
Kenneth W. Bancroft
SERVICE BRANCH: Navy
MILITARY HONORS: Good Conduct medal, Vietnam Service Award
OCCUPATION: Navy for 20 years and then worked for 22 years for General Motors in Lordstown
FAMILY: Wife, Verna; son, Kenneth and daughter, Kelly