Alan C. Banner

Alan Banner

Memories of Alan

Text below shared by RPCV Jim Gregory, Western Samoa 70-72

Alan Banner came to work as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Division of Fisheries after I started working in Fisheries in 1971. We both worked under Bill Travis, the Fisheries Officer for the Government of Western Samoa. Bill was a British expatriate. Alan was assigned to the fledgling turtle hatchery at Alepata, on the eastern tip of Upolu. The job seemed a natural, since Alan’s father was a marine biologist in Hawaii.

Certain beaches in Upolu were attractive for hawks bill turtles to come out of the sea and lay their eggs in the sandy beaches. Apparently, the only time the females would come to shore is once every two years, to lay their eggs. After approximately a sixty day gestation period, the eggs, which remind me of soft ping pong balls, would hatch and the new born sea turtles would instinctively start crawling for the open sea. Their survival rate was very low. Samoans consider the turtle eggs a delicacy. The villagers would come to the beaches to collect the eggs, where it would be easy to identify where the female adults had crawled up on the beach during the night to lay her eggs. If the eggs survived to hatch, the young turtles faced the problem of birds, crabs, dogs, and other predators picking them off as they crawled down to the water’s edge. The survival rate for the young turtles was estimated at less than five percent.

Alan’s project was to improve the survival rate and make a viable turtle hatchery. The hatchery was an enclosure, surrounded by chicken wire, on top and sides, and a concrete base. The floor was filled with sand. Early, every morning, Alan and his local assistants would search the beaches, looking for any new deposits of turtle eggs. They would dig in the sand and collect the eggs. The eggs would then be moved to the hatchery, where they would be reburied in the sand, where they were given protected from predators, and allowed to hatch undisturbed. Later, after the eggs hatched, the young turtles would be kept in a trough of sea water for several weeks. Following that period, Alan would take the young turtles out in his outboard, and release them on the outside of the reef. Their survival rate was greatly increased and estimated at over 85 percent.

I remember Alan showing me the instinctiveness of the turtle hatchlings to crawl in the direction of the water. One time we deposited several soon-to-hatch turtle eggs on the back side of sand dunes. The new hatchlings would instinctively know which direction to go to reach the ocean, even though they had to travel uphill to crest the sand dune, to get to the beach. This was done without them having ever seen the ocean.

I would typically go to Savai’i for one to two weeks at a time to work with the village fishing associations. On one occasion, I arranged with Alan for a group of volunteers, including myself, to go to Alepata to visit and make a weekend visit with him. We planned a beach barbecue and to go skin diving off the small islands offshore of Alepata, using the Fisheries Division boat. After having made the arrangements with the interested volunteers, I went to Savai’i on Monday. When I came back to Apia, the capital of Western Samoa, on Friday afternoon, my plan was to rendezvous with the other volunteers as planned and take a public bus and go to Alepata. However, when I arrived at the Fisheries Office, Bill Travis, my supervisor, told me that plans had changed. He was going to take the group of volunteers to Alepata in the Fisheries Department’s vehicle, and there was no room for me.

I believe it was late Sunday that Bill returned to Apia. The Volunteers who were on the weekend outing said Alan had been skin diving and was on the surface, when, all of a sudden, there was only a pool of blood on the surface where he had been. They had searched the area for Alan or any trace of him. Bill brought the volunteers back to Apia. He picked up our key fishermen, who were mostly Solomon Islanders, and our shark net, which I often used, and other supplies, and returned to Alepata, on the eastern tip of Upolu. I volunteered to go to help in the search, since I was an experienced swimmer and diver. Bill made the decision that he was not going to allow any PCV’s along or in the water during the search. His thoughts were of the effect it would have on the Fisheries programs if he were to loose a second Peace Corps Volunteer. The crew set out the shark net for several days, but to no avail. The stomachs were cut open of the sharks which were caught in the nets, but human remains were never found. We believed it was a tiger shark that attacked Alan. At the end of the fruitless search, Bill and the fisheries’ crew returned to Apia.

I have always had a feeling of remorse in knowing that even though I was not on that fateful weekend outing, I was the one which originally planned the weekend outing.

photo shared by Alan’s sister Kay

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11 Responses to Alan C. Banner

  1. Joe Basenberg August 18, 2021 at 4:26 pm #

    I was in the Fiji II Peace Corps group with Alan. We became good friends during our training period on Molokai. We were both runners, and would run through the pineapple fields regularly when time allowed. I visited him on Kia during a school holiday on one occasion, and we had infrequent short visits when he happened to be on Viti Levu. When my wife, Jean Alice, and I left Fiji to return to the U.S. in late 1971, we travelled deck passage on the Tongan freight boat “Aoniu” to Western Samoa to visit with Alan for several days before flying home. All these years later, I still think of Alan often. The loss of his talent and intellect at such a young age was a loss for us all.

  2. Gretel Matangi April 15, 2020 at 6:00 am #

    Hi my dad Viliamu Matangi work together with Alan Banner at Tepatasi Aleipata since he’s passed away we always remember him

  3. Elbert Vickland June 16, 2017 at 10:55 pm #

    Alan shared language and culture instructions in Apia with my family in early 1971. We were one of two families, along with the Hamiltons, serving in the Peace Corps in Samoa in 1971. In order to acquire trained volunteers, Peace Corps experimented with opening the program to families. I was there to help them develop their mental health program, as they had opened a small psychiatric ward in 1970. For various reasons, we were not able to arrive in time to join the Samoa VI. We were dubbed, “Samoa 6 ½,” or as I liked to call it, “VI I/II.” We, I, my wife and two sons, aged 9 and 13, I had our language and culture lessons daily in our hotel room. Alan, who had just transferred from Fiji to Samoa, joined us in our lessons. We were impressed with how quickly he was learning the Samoan language, which is quite different from the Fijian language he had been speaking. He picked up new words very quickly.
    My understanding of the shark attack was that a group of volunteers went to Alepata to see Alan’s turtle project. Most of the group returned by boat from the island, but Alan and Robin, another volunteer, decided to swim back to the mainland when the shark attacked. I believe that Robin was immediately picked up by the boat. Alan’s family came to Samoa for a beautiful memorial service at the opposite end of the country from where he died
    To any who remember, hello from the Vickland clan. — Alapati

    • Lorenzo Gomez December 28, 2020 at 11:48 pm #

      Interesting. I have heard this story from palangis who lived in Western Samoa but what they said was that the boy had the habit of swimming with the sharks before sundown when they came around near the beach and that the shark only took his head and not the rest of his body. They did say his father was a marine biologist in Hawai’i.

      How stories change over time! Thank you for your true story. Lorenzo

  4. Brenda Jones (formerly Rose) December 2, 2015 at 12:36 pm #

    I remember Allen very well. My husband, Bruce, and I were living on Oahu at the time and enjoyed Allens company when he was visiting his family in Kaneohe. Bruce had met Allen when they were both working at a summer job in Alaska while they were college students. When his mother called with the news of his death I was deeply saddened. He was an exceptional young man in his intellect and character.

  5. Richard Braun November 30, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    Alan was on Kia Island in Fiji before Samoa. He was responsible for their new ferro-cement fishing boat on which my now wife and I spent an eventful Christmas Eve during a storm . I was in the PC programme after his and knew him quite well. We visited him in Samoa after he moved. . After his death the Kia islanders arranged a memorial for him in Labasa at which his family attended and I was honoured to help organise.

  6. Ralph Hamilton July 11, 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    I think that this is a great idea to remember those that had the volunteer spirit within and gave so much.

    My family was in Western Samoa the same time Allan’s life was tragically taken by a shark. We visited him a couple of occasions and found that he liked to sit on the beach in the evenings while we ate whatever we would bring from Apia for dinner. My father was a plumber and helped fix the water supply pipes that the village used. On a couple of evenings while visiting him under a full moon we would walk up and down the beach looking for turtle tracks and find the mothers laying their eggs. We would mark the sites and come back to collect the eggs for Allan’s sand pits. Sometimes we would flip the mothers over if they were going to get away and the surf would make the tracks disappear. When we came back which was only a couple of minutes we would flip her back over and follow a straight line up to the sand dune to find the eggs.

    I liked the touching story of Jim Fisher who taught me how to snorkel and hope that his sorrow is not too hard to bare as the years grow longer.


    Ralph Hamilton Jr.

  7. Beth Henderson November 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    For some strange reason, I Googled Faleasiu, Western Samoa, just yesterday. The resulting connections included Jim Gregory’s account of the loss of Alan Banner, a fellow P.C.V. with me in Samoa. We left Samoa at nearly the same time and I stopped to see him enroute back to the U.S. . Less than a month later, having moved to eastern Maine to teach on a Passamaquoddy reservation, I learned of Alan’s death. As with all of his friends and family, the shock of his death was powerful. I remember well conversations with his sister
    including information that his parents had been working on
    a ‘shark repellent’ formula at U.Hawaii.
    Jim, thank you for this informative and helpful summation of Alan’s tragic passing. He was a superb human being and certainly representative of Peace Corp’s spirit in Polynesia.
    Long may those turtles live in his memory!!

  8. Tom May 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    I was a PCV with Alan in Fiji from 1968 to 1970. He was an amazing diver, displayed little fear of any situation and became a legend on Kia Island where he organized their fisheries projects.

    Alan stayed with me while visiting Fiji just prior to his death. The news of his passing saddened us and a traditional passing observance was held on Kia in his honor.

    I continued to work in Fiji as a government officer for several years and have remained in contact with friends there. I can verify that Alan’s memory survives many decades past his untimely death.

  9. Stan Batalona October 11, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    I was watching a TV series on Shark attacks in Australia which made me think of a guy who I went to school with back in the 60’s and never knew what really happened to him until now over 40 years later…Thank you for writing this article.
    I met Alan while running Track for Castle HS out there in Kaneohe on the Windward side of Oahu. Alan was an outstanding runner in any of the long distance races, always did well in placing in the top 3 and even winning a few. We never hung out or anything…just knew each other from going to practice everyday. I think he was 2 or 3 years ahead of me as far as age difference. Alan had graduated at least a year or two already while I still played for Castle when I heard that he got killed by a shark while skin diving. I don’t know who had the information but it was just rumor at that time which stayed in the back of my mind until today.
    Thank you again for the story, he was a very nice man and although he was much older than us ‘up and coming’ fellow athletes, he always had a smile on his face when we met.


  10. Ellen Sheeley September 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    I served in the Peace Corps in Western Samoa from 1983 to 1985. As a former lifeguard, I often engaged in swimming and snorkeling in the lagoon in Apia, where I was based, and off the beaches of other parts of Upolu.

    Whenever my Samoan friends and colleagues caught wind of my plans, they would caution me and show great concern. They would relate a story of an early Peace Corps Volunteer to Western Samoa who had died in a shark attack. The same would happen to the other PCVs in the country when they showed interest in water sports. Because no one ever mentioned a name or any details surrounding the attack, we all thought it was just part of Samoan folklore. Now I know it wasn’t.

    I’m so sorry for Alan’s family and friends. What a shock and a loss it must have been for them.

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