By Jean Mathisen Haugen, Lander Historian
(Lander, Wyo.) – In the last years Fort Washakie, Wyoming was a military post, members of the 9th and 10th cavalry were stationed there–these were the famed “Buffalo Soldiers.” Among these men was Vance Marchbanks, Sr., who had entered military service on August 2, 1895. He served as a warrant officer at Fort Apache and Fort Huachuca , Arizona and at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. He served his country for 40 years.
Marchbank was Chief Doctor for Tuskeegee Airmen.
In 1905, his son, Vance Marchbanks, Jr., was born at Fort Washakie. Vance would spend his younger years at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona and attended college at the University of Arizona in Tucson. With mixed ancestry he would face a hard time. As an undergraduate he was not permitted to live in the dormitory and had to live in a boarding house off campus. The only place he was allowed to eat was at the local railroad station This did not deter him. He attended Howard University’s medical school and residency before going to Tuskegee, Alabama to work at a veteran’s hospital. At this time he met Benjamin O. Davis–who also had Wyoming ties– his father had been a first lieutenant of the cavalry at Fort D.A. Russell (now F.E. Warren Air Force Base at Cheyenne).
Marchbanks was called to duty in 1941, commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps. and went on to become one of the Tuskegee Army Air Field Medical Officers. He was the first black medical officer in the Air Corps. He re-connected with new commander Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., in early 1944. Major Marchbanks became one of the unit’s flight surgeons and earned a Bronze Star for his service with the Tuskegee Airmen–the all black flying unit that won fame in the war . After the war, the Army Air Corps. became the nucleus of the U.S. Air Force.. Marchbanks continued to distinguish himself and received two Air Force Commendation Medals for research projects. One was for the design of an oxygen mask tester that became a standard item on air base equipment. He also flew three combat missions in the Korean War.
In 1960 Vance Marchbanks, Jr., served as aeromedical monitory and support physician for Project Mercury and in 1962 was a specialist who monitored astronaut John Glenn’s vital signs during his orbital flight.
Vance Hunter Marchbanks, Jr., passed away in 1988.. He had traveled far from Fort Washakie, Wyoming to become an integral part of the Tuskegee Airmen and the U.S. Space Program, an amazing trip for the son of a buffalo soldier.
Fort Washakie about the time of Marchbank’s birth in 1905. (From the collection of Jean Mathisen Haugen)