Force's first WWII fatality was black from Kentucky By MEGAN WOOLHOUSE The Courier-Journal Courier-Journal Courier-Journal FORT KNOX, Ky. - The first man to die fighting in the U.S. tank force during World War II was a 19-year-old 19-year-old 19-year-old 19-year-old 19-year-old black man from Kentucky. Pvt. Robert H. Brooks was killed Dec. 8, 1941, in the Philippines. His family never had his remains returned returned home to Sadieville, but thanks to one general, Brooks is memorialized memorialized at Fort Knox. Brooks enlisted in 1940, when the Army was rigidly segregated. Brooks, 18 and light-skinned, light-skinned, light-skinned, traveled to Ohio and lied about his race. He was assigned assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion. Historians can only speculate about why Brooks enlisted. John Cranston, former Armor Center historian historian at Fort Knox, said there were many reasons for a black man to want to be in a white unit. Whites lived and trained in better facilities and had more opportunity for advancement. advancement. If Brooks could pass as white in the Army, he possibly could pass as white after the war. "It was a way out," Cranston said. "He probably probably was a shrewd customer." Brooks never got that far. In 1941, Gen. George S. Patton selected selected the 192nd Tank Battalion to go to Luzon in the Philippines. The Japanese Japanese bombed Luzon the day after they bombed Pearl Harbor. "Several members of the tank battalion battalion dived under their tanks and escaped escaped injury and death," Studs Ter-kel Ter-kel Ter-kel wrote in "The Good War: An Oral History of World War II." "But Robert Robert Brooks's head was cut in half by shrapnel." The Army remained unaware of Brooks' race until officials at Fort Knox decided in 1942 to name the main parade field at the sprawling Army post in his honor. In planning the ceremony, officers at Fort Knox called officials in Brooks' hometown and learned that Brooks' parents were black. Some officers wanted to cancel the ceremonv. But Gen. Jacob Devers - is. Shi ttrtfr BY SAM UPSHAW JR . THE COURIER-JOURNAL COURIER-JOURNAL COURIER-JOURNAL A plaque at Brooks Field at Fort Knox honors Pvt. Robert H. Brooks, who was killed Dec. 8, 1941, in the Philippines. said any change would be silly and that the field should be named for the soldier, regardless of his race. He said, " 'We're naming the field after that kid, and that's the way it's going to stay,' " retired Lt. Col. John Campbell of Radcliff said. The Army invited Brooks' parents, sharecroppers in Sadieville, to the ceremony by telegram the day before the event. They didn't come. Army historians said Brooks' parents were unhappy that their son had lied about his race to join a white unit. Two days before Christmas 1942, Devers dedicated Brooks Field and unveiled a rock monument. It says nothing about Brooks' race. "For the preservation of America, the soldiers and sailors guarding our outposts are giving their lives," Devers told a small crowd at the ceremony. "In death, there is no grade or rank. And in this, the greatest greatest democracy the world has known, neither riches nor poverty, neither creed nor race draws a line of demarcation demarcation in this hour of crisis."