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 1 through 30, 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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
“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.”
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.