First African-American Tanker killed in WWII
Pvt. Robert H. Brooks was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Ray Brooks. He was born in October 8, 1915, in the town of Sadieville, Kentucky, where he was raised. As an adult, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was inducted into the army in late 1940.
Before the War
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 was assigned to maintenance in D Company.
In late August, 1941, Robert and the rest of the 192nd went on maneuvers in Louisiana. They had no idea that they had already been selected for overseas duty. At Camp Polk at the end of the maneuvers, Robert and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. Each man was given a two week pass home.
By train, D Company traveled to San Francisco. From there, Robert and the other members of the company took a ferry to Angel Island. They were inoculated and than boarded ships for the Philippines. After arriving in the Philippines, the battalion was housed in tents since their barracks were unfinished.
During the War
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes appeared over Clark Field. Most of the members of D Company had gone to lunch. One man had been left behind with each tank. Robert was with two of the mechanics from maintenance working on tanks when the first bombs began to fall. 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 exploded next to him. He was killed instantly. When he was found by the other members of his company, half his face and part of his shoulder were missing.
Memorial to his Service
When the news of his death reached Fort Knox, the commanding General, Jacob Devers, decided that a parade ground should be named in his honor. One of General Dever's subordinates called the Farmer's Deposit Bank in Sadieville, 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. The aide asked if it would be possible for someone from the town to 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 matters was that he had given his life for his country."
"It did not matter whether or not Robert was Black, what matters 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 or poverty, neither creed or 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.