Brooks R.

 

Pvt. Robert Harold Brooks


    Pvt. Robert H. Brooks was the son of Adline &. Ray Brooks.  He was born in October 8, 1915, in McFarland, Kentucky.  He was raised in Sadieville, Kentucky, with his two sisters.  As an adult, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he enlisted in the U.S. Army in late 1940.

    In November 1940, Robert became a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The reason he joined the company was that the company had only 66 men.  He trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he qualified as a half-track and a tank driver.  He attended track vehicle maintenance school at Ft. Knox and was assigned to the maintenance section of D Company.  He also drove the half track of Sgt. Morgan French who was in charge of tank maintenance.

    From September 1st through 30th, the 192nd went on maneuvers in Louisiana.  They had no idea that they had already been selected for overseas duty.  After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, at the end of the maneuvers, where the battalion members learned that they were being sent overseas.  Most of the soldiers were given two week furloughs home.
    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, so the next day - when a Navy ship was sent to the area - the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    The battalion's new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains.  The soldiers also cosmolined anything that they thought would rust.  Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company.  B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines.  The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
    On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.

      The morning of December 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The letter companies were ordered to the south end of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac. 
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the sky was filled with American planes.  The soldiers had learned about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor earlier in the morning.  At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.  The planes were lined up in a straight line outside the pilots' mess hall.

    At 12:45, two formations of plane approached the airfield from the northwest.  Most of the members of D Company had gone to lunch, and one man had been left behind with each tank and half-track.  Robert was with two of the mechanics from maintenance when the first bombs began to fall.
    According to Morgan French, Robert was running to his half-track. 
It was the belief of the other members of the company that Robert was attempting to get to his half-track so he could man the .50 caliber machine gun on it.  As he ran, a bomb, which was a dud, hit Robert and split him in two.  He was killed instantly.  Ralph Stine, who was looking through the viewing slit in his tank, watched the entire event.  Stine stated that he knew the bomb was a dud because it landed twenty feet from his tank.  When Robert was found by the other members of his company, half his head and part of his shoulder were missing.  Robert Brooks was the first American tank battalion member to be killed in World War II.

    When the news of his death reached Fort Knox, the commanding General, Jacob Devers, decided that a parade ground , at the fort, should be named in his honor.  One of General Dever's subordinates called the Farmer's Deposit Bank in Sadieville, Kentucky, attempting to reach Robert's parents.  As it turned out, the bank had the only phone in the town.  W. T. Warring at the bank answered the phone, and was asked by the aide if he would ask Robert's parents if they could be  present at the dedication ceremony.

    The aide asked Mr. Warring if he could tell him anything about Robert's parents.  Mr. Warring said, " His parents are tenant farmers, ordinary Black people;  maybe you could contact them and see if they could come." 

    The general's representative hung up the phone and immediately called back.  He said to Mr. Warring, "Did you say they were Black?"  Warring responded, "Yes, his mother and father are very dark."  The aide felt that this might change the situation.  When he reported back to General Devers, the general said, "It did not matter whether or not Robert was Black, what mattered was that he had given his life for his country."

    The ceremony dedicating the parade ground in honor of Robert Brooks was held with Robert's parents present.  During the dedication, General Devers said in his dedication speech, "In death there is no grade or rank.  And in this greatest democracy the world has ever known, neither riches nor poverty, neither creed nor race, draws a line of demarcation in this hour of national crisis."

    After the war, Robert Brooks' remains were moved to the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.  He still lies there today with the other members of his battalion.  He was posthumously promoted to Private First Class.


 

 

 

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