When Denny Banister graduated from college in Warrensburg in 1966, the young man's life could have taken many interesting directions. Only recently married to his fiancée, Madelyn, with whom he had grown up in St. Louis, the young man chose to pursue a long-held interest in the military by enlisting in the U.S. Navy.
"They sent me to San Diego in May 1967, for boot camp," Banister recalled. "While I was there, I was selected to serve as a journalist because of the broadcasting and radio experience I had acquired during and after college," he added.
After completing his basic training, he received orders to report for Rota, Spain, arriving in country in late summer 1967. Several months later, his wife joined him at their new overseas home.
"They assigned me as the station manager for the radio station on the base," he explained. "The naval base was very interesting, and the radio station was located down by the pier." He further noted, "We were part of the Armed Force Radio and Television Service and carried their transcribed programming."
Additionally, Banister went on to explain, he spent much of his time as a disc jockey and developing local programming.
"One memorable moment was when I interviewed an admiral with the Spanish navy, and the interview was conducted through an interpreter. On another occasion, I interviewed for the base newspaper a prince in the line of Spanish royalty."
On other occasions, the sailor was called upon to host and introduce various entertainment acts who were visiting the military base during USO shows.
During what became a three-year assignment in Spain, Banister's wife gave birth to their son on Christmas Day of 1968.
"My family and I were able to get some time off and travel to Austria, Switzerland and Germany — we really got to see a nice chunk of Europe," he said. "But then I received orders for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the summer of 1970, so my wife and son went back to St. Louis while I finished the next two years of my assignment."
While in Cuba, he was once again assigned to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, working as the radio station manager and as a member of the television evening news team.
"I remember when I arrived at Cuba and they were ferrying me to the station, I thought to myself, 'Here I am, serving during the Vietnam War and spending my time as a journalist, while many of my friends are in the Vietnam War.' It was a surreal moment," he added.
The United States soon began to draw down forces as the end of the Vietnam War approached and, in September 1972, Banister received his discharge from the Navy. When returning to St. Louis to reunite with his family, his parents were in the process of retiring to the Lake of the Ozarks. During a trip to visit them, a voice he heard over his car radio soon shifted the direction of his post-military career.
"We were going to see my parents when a guy I used to broadcast with during college came on the radio station in Fulton," he said. "So I stopped by the station to see him and the general manager there was another guy I had worked with in commercial radio."
Banister would spent the next six months working at the station in Fulton, followed by five years with KLIK in Jefferson City. Missouri Farm Bureau then hired him in 1976, where he would go on to retire as assistant director of public affairs after 35 years of employment.
"I had been out of the Navy for 11 years and working for Farm Bureau when I realized that I really missed the service," Banister explained. "Initially, my decision to leave the Navy was because I was tired of being away from my family; but when I was working in radio, there were no holidays and you were always moving to other stations if you wanted opportunities for advancement."
Enlisting in the Navy Reserve in St. Louis in 1983, Banister remained in the service until retiring on his 60th birthday in August 2004, having completed a combined 28 years of military service.
"The Navy Reserve offered me several fascinating opportunities like working temporary orders at different naval broadcasting facilities and covering events like Fleet Week and air shows with the Blue Angels — the Navy's flight demonstration team," he said. "I also got to go on sea duty frequently."
As the veteran sagely explained, his experiences have made it difficult for him to share with others his own story of military service.
"As a journalist, it was part of my job to tell the stories of others," he said. "If you focus on yourself, then you're missing the story."
He added, "But while I was in the Navy, I never stopped learning. I had the privilege of working with individuals from many professional backgrounds, and I learned from them, taking those new skills back to my full-time employer. It all tied together quite well."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.