Brooks, Pvt. Robert H.

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Pvt. Robert H. Brooks was the son of Adeline &. Ray Brooks. He was born on 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.

Robert was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he became a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The reason he joined the company was that the company had only 66 men.

Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.

A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.

At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.

It is known 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.

In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.

On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers. 

Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.

From September 1 through 30, the 192nd went on maneuvers in Louisiana. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train. They had no idea that they had already been selected for overseas duty.

During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”  

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 because of an event that happened earlier in 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was lower than the others, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.

The next morning, by the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. 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 put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust. Over different train routes, the companies were sent to Ft. Mason in 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 27. 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 5, 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 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.

On Saturday, November 15, 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, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.

When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, 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 20, 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 – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. 

The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They 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.

The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat. 

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 1, 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.

On the morning of December 8, the officers of the tank battalions 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. That morning the sky was filled with American planes. 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 planes 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 slot 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 the death of Pvt. Robert H. Brooks reached Fort Knox, the Commanding General, Jacob Devers, ordered that the main parade ground at the base from that day on be named after him.  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.”

General Devers had this letter sent to the parents of Pvt. Robert H. Brooks. 

Mr. and Mrs. Roy Brooks
RFD #1

Sadieville, Kentucky

“My Dear Mr. and Mrs. Brooks:

“It is with the deepest regret that I have learned of the death of your son, Robert, who gave his life in the defense of his country, December 8, 1941, in a battle near Fort Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands.
“With appreciation of your suffering, my sincere sympathy goes out to you.
“Robert was the first battle casualty of the Armored Force, and because of this, and because of his excellent record, I have directed that the main parade ground at Fort Knox be named Brooks Field in honor of your son.
“The dedication of Brooks Field will take place at 11:00, Tuesday morning, December 23, and I hope that you may attend this ceremony.

                                                                                “Most sincerely yours

                                                                                Jacob L. Devers
                                                                                Major General, U.S. Army 
                                                                                Chief of Armored Forces”

The ceremony dedicating the parade ground in honor of Robert Brooks was held with Robert’s parents present on December 23 at 11:00 A.M. All commanding officers and their staffs took their places near the flagpole. In addition, nine generals were present. A platoon of dismounted infantry from the 1st Armored Division formed in a double rank facing the flagpole. The band of the 5th Armored Division played music, and General Devers delivered his address.

“On December 8, the first day that America entered the war, Pvt. Robert H. Brooks died on the battlefield near Fort Stotsenburg, in the Philippine Islands. For him, the first soldier of the Armored Force to be killed in action, this parade ground, with its flag now at half-mast, will be named Brooks Field.”

During the dedication, General Devers said in his dedication speech, “Reveille has sounded for living Americans. In the factories and farms — in the mines and on the railroads — in the home and in the offices all answering the call. Yet, none can make a greater sacrifice for the nation than the soldier who gives his life. For Robert Brooks the bugle will sound taps

“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.”

Chaplain W. D. Cleary said:

“Oh, Mighty and Eternal God, be pleased to bless this gathering … grant that the dedication of this field may include the dedication of our lives to the defense of the principles, ideals and institutions for which he gave his life … to his bereaved parents … strength and courage to bear with patience and Christian resignation the heavy cross Thou has laid upon them … 

“To the immortal soul of Robert H. Brooks, grant refreshment, light and peace in Thy heavenly kingdom, through the infinite merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”

The prayer was followed by three volleys from rifles and then Taps. 

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

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