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John Monro Banister

Colonel, Medical Corps, U. S. Army

John Monro Banister (August 17, 1854-January 31, 1929), the elder of two brothers who had distinguished careers in the medical corps of the army, was born at Greensboro, Alabama, the son of John Monro Banister, an Episcopal minister, and his wife, Mary Louisa (Brodnax) Banister. The Banisters were of distinguished Virginia ancestry, descended from John Banister, eminent botanist and minister of the Church of England who came to Virginia as a missionary about 1670. He acquired an estate near Petersburg, which he named Battersea, and built one of the finest country homes in that section. The Banisters intermarried early with the family of Blair, a pioneer Virginia family that included James Blair, also an Episcopal missionary, who founded the College of William and Mary, and John Blair, a delegate to the convention which wrote the national constitution.

John Banister was sent to Washington and Lee University at Lexington, Virginia, where he graduated in 1874, after which he entered the .medical department of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he obtained his degree in medicine in 1878. He joined the medical corps of the army as an acting assistant surgeon on December 27, 1878, and was appointed an assistant surgeon on June 3, 1879. Joining at Columbus Barracks, Ohio, his first permanent station was Fort Reno in Indian Territory where he served from 1879 to 1882. During this period he saw much field duty with the 9th Cavalry in the Red River country and in June 1882 he accompanied the same regiment on a tour of field service and camp duty in Colorado which occupied the following year. In September 1883 he was moved to Fort Adams, Rhode Island, where he served for three years. He was promoted to the grade of captain on June 3, 1884. A year at Fort Canby, Wyoming (1886-87) was followed by three years at Fort Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (1887-90). His summer of 1889 was occupied in field duty. From June 1890 to March 1893 he served with the 2d Cavalry at Fort Stanton, New Mexico. Following this service he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he served for the next five years. He was promoted to the grade of major on January 26, 1897.

From his entrance into the service he had interested himself in the practice of surgery and later had taken advantage of leaves of absence to acquire a knowledge of ophthalmology in the clinics of New York and Philadelphia. At Fort Leavenworth he did much operative surgery and continued his work on diseases of the eye. He carried out extensive tests on the vision of the command and presented a paper on standards of visual acuity before the meeting of the Association of Military Surgeons at Philadelphia in May 1896. He early recognized the value of the Bassini operation for inguinal hernia, and following the issuance of authority for operation for this condition in soldier patients, he performed a series of these operations and reported upon them and the general army experience with hernia operations at the meeting of the same association at Columbus, Ohio, in May 1897. His work, together with that of Colonel William H. Forwood and a few others, early established the Bassini operation as the standard procedure in the army.

In October 1898 Major Banister was transferred to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he served for the following four years. While here he improved the surgical service of the hospital by the installation of new operating rooms and equipment and set a new standard of surgical skill for the institution.

In January 1902 he went to Manila in the Philippines, where he was assigned as chief surgeon of the 1st Separate Brigade at Dagupan. In August he was transferred to Cebu as chief surgeon of the South Philippines and in October to Iloilo as chief surgeon of the Department of Visayas. In January 1903 he was transferred to Manila and placed in command of the 1st Reserve Hospital. In addition to his executive duties he was head of the surgical service of the hospital and chief operator. During the three years of this service he maintained a high reputation for the quality of surgical service performed. In 1904 he was appointed a member of the board for the construction of Fort William McKinley on the outskirts of Manila.

He returned to the United States in March 1905 and was assigned to duty at Fort Riley, Kansas. In June 1907 he was moved to Omaha, Nebraska, as chief surgeon, Department of Missouri, a position which he filled until his retirement, upon his own application, after thirty years of service, on December 31, 1910. He had been promoted to lieutenant colonel on March 29, 1906, while on duty at Fort Riley, and to colonel on January 1, 1910, while at Omaha. The last few years of his service were marked by much ill health and by a term of hospital treatment in Washington.

Following retirement Colonel Banister made his home in Omaha and established an office for the practice of ophthalmology, in which he made a marked success. He was appointed lecturer on tropical medicine at the University of Nebraska, College of Medicine, and later emeritus professor of the same branch. He was elected president of the Nebraska State Medical Society in 1919. During the World War he was recalled to active duty as examiner at the two medical colleges in Omaha. He died in Omaha on January 31, 1929, of hypostatic pneumonia following an attack of cystitis.

Beginning as early as 1880 he contributed numerous articles, mainly case reports, to the periodical literature. His writings show him a man of definite ideas and of judgment and skill in his operative work.

In addition to the Association of Military Surgeons and the American Medical Association, he was a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology and of the American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society. He was also a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, in direct descent from Colonel John Banister of the Revolutionary Army. He was a member and one time president of the Nebraska Association of the sons of the American Revolution.

Colonel Banister was twice married, first to Alice White of Alabama, who died in her young womanhood, leaving a daughter, Alice. He later married Maude Edmundson, who survived him. Of their children, John Monro was killed while serving with the Canadian forces in the World War; Edwin Blair is a practicing physician in Appleton, Wisconsin, and a daughter, Maude, married Joseph H. Barnard, an officer of the cavalry arm.

(Military Surgeon, 1929, Vol. 64, p. 503. Tr. Am. Acad. Ophth. Otolar., 1920. J. Am. M. Ass., 1929, Vol. 92, p. 1002. War Dept. Records. Family sources.)

James M. Phalen,
Colonel, U. S. Army, Retired.