Friday, October 27, 2006

Private Robert Brooks, U.S. Army

I've been doing a lot of research lately on the 1941-42 Bataan-Corregidor Campaign. The KY National Guard sent a tank company from Harrodsburg (where I live) to the the Philippines just before Pearl Harbor, and the unit (D Company, 192d Tank Battalion) served with distinction from 7 Dec 1941 to the surrender on Bataan 9 April 1942, earning 2 Presidential Unit Citations. I'll probably write more on the 192d here in the future, but one stat will suffice for now about the unit: 66 Harrodsburg men went into captivity, and only 37 made it home in 1945.

On the first day of the war (8 Dec 1941, as Luzon is on the other side of the International Date Line), Company D was guarding Clark Field when swarms of Japanese planes attacked and knocked out most of the U.S. Far Eastern Air Force. One of Company D's members, Pvt. Robert Brooks from Sadieville KY (over in the mountains) was killed in the raid. He was the first Armored Force soldier to die in World War II.

The Army wanted to honor Brooks, so they sent someone to get his family to attend a ceremony at Fort Knox, the "Home of Armor." Imagine everyone's surprise when they discovered that Brooks' family was black - this in an Army that still had segregated units until 1948-52. Turns out Brooks was a very fair-skinned black man who passed himself off as white to get into Company D. His comrades had some suspicion about his ancestry, but didn't seem to care.

Today Brooks is buried in Manila. For more info on Pvt. Brooks, see

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