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Remembering the Brooks brothers

Story submitted: Norman Bush

World War II came and the Brooks family, surrounded by young men, were one of the first to see their boys go off to war. To see their young men be put in harms way was not taken lightly by Ma and Pa Brooks, but as patriotic Americans, they watched them leave to foreign places of unknown origins.

The Brooks family, like others in the community, were farmers and their livelihood depended on their success to provide for their family. There was Charlie, who was the oldest; Paul; Herbert; and Frank, who was the youngest son. Then there were Kate and Elenor, who was referred to as El. The Brooks lived in one of the biggest houses in the Lovett community, which still stands today, occupied by Paul Brooks Jr. and wife, Pat, who is the descendent of the Brooks family.

Charlie Brooks married Emma Stokes prior to being drafted in the service. After his tenure in the service, he returned home and had a son and daughter: James and Francis respectively. Later, Paul and Herbert returned home after the war and continued on the farm. During Paul's enlistment, he was sent to Washington D.C. where he met his beautiful wife, Lilly Schroeder, who was employed by the federal government at the United States Pentagon. They later married and returned to the Lovett community and raised seven children: Abbie, Donna, Jean, Roger (often called Butch), Joycie, Paul Jr. and Lillie Jane.

Paul Brooks Sr. farmed and worked at a paper mill. Holding down two jobs wasn't easy, but this was a way of life for him – one that he enjoyed.

Herbert Brooks came home after the war and married Monett Kelley, who was his next door neighbor. They had one son, called Hubby, and four daughters: Monney, Dot, Beth and Lee. Leaving the Lovett community some 30 years ago and returning causes one to forget faces and names. After all, these youngsters now have grandchildren of their own. Time waits on no one.

In researching the Brooks family records, we find a limited amount of information concerning the Brooks brothers and their time spent in the military. We do know that Charlie was drafted and found himself in North America with Major General George Patton, who was commanding the North African Campaign. The campaign lasted from 1940 to 1942 and several battles were fought including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Maurithania, Sudan, Tunisia and the western Sahara. We believe that Charlie was involved in the battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, which involved the 1st Battalion, 25th Regiment and 16th Infantry, along with the 19th Combat Engineer Regiment and the 6th artillery.

We believe that Charlie was with the 16th Infantry division. At any rate, he was one of the men who helped General Patton defeat Romel, the Desert Fox, who was never captured in Africa even though thousands of his troops surrendered. The story goes that Hitler knew that he was losing the desert war and pulled Romel out so as not to be embarrassed with the loss of one of his best generals.

Through the defeat, the fighting was not over for Charlie as he followed General Patton into the invasion of Sicily. From the heat of the desert to the snow covered mountains of Sicily, Charlie fought his way with comrades falling all around him. Charlie was the oldest in his company and many of his buddies called him "pawpaw." One thing is for sure: Charlie Brooks carried his load. Being a farm boy, he knew how to shoot straight.

With men falling all around, he held his ground, firing back at the enemy and hitting his target. Charlie Brooks returned home and raised a family, but passed away on Aug. 8, 1967, leaving behind his wife and children. He never talked much about his experiences during the war and some memories are reported to have went to the grave with him.

While Charlie was away in Sicily fighting the ground battle, Frank Brooks was assigned to the 389th Bomber Command, 8th Air Force as a turret belly gunner on a B-24 Liberator by the name of Lady Liberty, flying out of Jenneby, Germany. The turret gunners made life miserable for the Luftwaffe fighter of Hitler's regime.

Small in stature, Frank was selected and trained to be a turret gunner; the men who were cramped in those bubbles had to be small due to the limited space. Lest we not forget the sub-temperatures of the cold. He did have at his disposal two .50 caliber machine guns to fire at the enemies, whom he called his "babies."

Like his brothers, Frank grew up to work hard, play hard and enjoy life. It has been said that Frank loved fast cars and spent a lot of his time modifying old jalopies owned by the Brooks family. It's been said that you could hear Frank coming down the road before you could see him. One has to remember that the country roads during his time were dirt roads and when driving, you had to be careful or else you would end up in the ditch.

Research shows that the B-24 bombers were a work of art, built by the Consolidated Aircraft Corps to withstand anything. With four supercharged radial engines with 14 cylinders each, each engine had the equivalent of 1,200 horsepower. The bombays were loaded with bombs, which could total up to 12,000 Kg., depending on the distance to the target.

The fly boys of the 389th were ready to bring destruction to the enemy. On the morning of Nov. 2, 1943, just before daybreak, the B-24's were lined up and ready for take off. In the cockpit among Frank and behind the yoke of Lady Liberty was pilot 1LT. Norval O. Peterson, of Stratford, Ct. Next to him was 1LT. Leory R. Bossetti, of Sandusky, Ohio. Behind them was 2LT. Eugene F. McKean, from New York City, N.Y.   In the bombadier position was 2LT. Harman Hays Jr., from Atchison, Kan. Waist gunners included SSGT. Charles F. Openlander, from Norristown, Pa.; and SSGT. James R. Yarbrough, from Dothan, Ala.

This was Frank's third time out. As the plane was waiting for take off, his thoughts were of home and some of Ma Brooks' home cooking, no doubt.

Meanwhile back at the Brooks household, Ma and Pa Brooks waited each and every day to hear from Charlie and Frank. Charlie's wife, Emma, was staying with Ma and Pa Brooks. Around lunch time on Nov. 13, 1943, a big black limousine turned in the driveway and two men got out and approached the house. The Brooks family knew this was bad news. During that time, a funeral director and clergy always brought the news of a deceased soldier.

The preacher handed Pa Brooks the telegram, sealed formally in an envelope. Pa Brooks refused to open it and he knew it was one of his sons, he just didn't know which one it was. At the moment, he didn't want to know.

Around 3 p.m., Emma couldn't stand it any longer and asked Pa Brooks to open the envelope. It was good news for Emma, but bad news for the family as Frank had died.

History shows that on the same day the Brooks family received the telegram, Lady Liberty had been struck by German anti-aircraft fire. The pilots were left without control. Lady Liberty had gone down, striking another B-24 bomber. Approximately 20 sacrificed their lives that day because America asked them to.

Frank's body was not recovered until many years after the war. This writer remembers attending his funeral at Shiloh Methodist Church, the first military funeral I ever attended. A 21-gun salute, along with Taps, were displayed as a part of the full military honors offered.

Even as a young man, I could not hold back my tears. Frank Brooks' remains were buried beside his Mother and Father.

Bush has fond memories of the Brooks family. The tobacco fields and working on the farm was a way of life. Oftentimes, we would find ourselves out in the fields cropping tobacco, which was a primary crop for farmers in those days.

A special thanks goes to the Brooks family, especially James, Joycie and Paul Jr. who have shared much of the information concerning the family. God bless the Brooks family and God bless the United States of America.

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