|Brooks Field dedicated in 1942 to a heroic
African American tanker
We cannot forget that on December 7, 1941, December 8th across the international dateline, Japan descended upon not only Pearl Harbor but also upon the Philippine Islands, Guam, Wake Island, Howland Island, Midway, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Whereas the attack on Pearl Harbor was to discourage U.S. action in Asia, the other strikes served as preludes to full-scale invasions and brutal military occupation.
Pvt. Brooks was a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion, Company D, which originated as the 38th Divisional Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The 192nd arrived in the Philippines in late November 1941 and was sent immediately to guard Clark Field at Fort Stotsenburg. Soon after Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack, waves of Japanese bombers appeared over the air fields in the Philippines.
Brooks was killed running to his M3 Half-track hoping to man its .50 caliber machine gun. When the news of Pvt. Robert H. Brooks, the first battle casualty of the Armored Force, reached Fort Knox, the Commanding General, Jacob Devers, ordered that the main parade ground at the base from that day on be named after the young tanker.
In inviting Brooks’ parents to the naming ceremony, it was discovered that they were Black tenant farmers from rural Kentucky. At the time, the Army’s Armored Force was segregated.
When this was reported back to General Devers, he said, “It does not matter whether or not Robert was Black, what mattered was that he had given his life for his country.” At the dedication of Brooks Field on December 23, Major General Devers said “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.”
Pvt. Brooks was not alone in his determination and dedication to service. His Company D and 192nd Tank Battalion held out in the Battle of Bataan with dwindling supplies, rampant disease, and little rest until they were surrendered by their commanders on April 9, 1942. Rescue did not come nor was it planned. What followed was the infamous Bataan Death March, capricious abuse, starvation, hellships, and slave labor in Japan. By war’s end, barely half of the men and women surrendered on Bataan had survived. Only 37 or the 66 men from Harrodsburg returned home.
So today, I ask you to remember the bravery of both Pvt. Brooks and General Devers who defied convention to do what was right to advance democracy and equality. I invite you to visit Brooks Field at Fort Knox in my district to pay your respects to them. And I ask you not to forget the brave men of the 192nd Tank Battalion who withstood fascism in battle and in captivity, half of whom did not return home.