C 6 THE COURIER-JOURNAL, COURIER-JOURNAL, COURIER-JOURNAL, MONDAY, DECEMBER 9, 1991 Army got a shock but still honored black soldier in 'all-white' 'all-white' 'all-white' unit Associated Press LEXINGTON, Ky. Attempts to honor a Kentucky soldier who died 50 years ago in a Japanese bombing raid in the Philippines revealed his well-kept well-kept well-kept secret: He was a black man in what had been considered an all-white all-white all-white Army outfit. Even fellow Kentuckians in Company D of the 192nd Tank Battalion a 66-man 66-man 66-man unit made up almost entirely entirely of Kentucky National Guardsmen from Harrodsburg didn't know that Pfc. Robert Brooks was black. The Army didn't find out until officers decided to name a parade ground at Fort Knox in honor of Brooks, the first member of a U.S. armor unit killed in World War II. Brooks, 25, who was from Sadieville in Scott County, was killed Dec. 8, 1941, in the initial Japanese bombing of Clark Field. He apparently died within minutes after the first bombs fell, said Kenneth Hourigan, a Harrodsburg Harrodsburg resident who served with Brooks in the Philippines. Philippines. Hourigan said no one in their unit suspected Brooks was African-American. African-American. African-American. Hourigan said he learned the truth only when he returned home after the war. Sam Wood of Sadieville, who grew up with Brooks, said he was sure Brooks never tried to pass for white he thinks the Army simply assumed Brooks was white and assigned him to a white unit. "His complexion was light; from his looks you could easily think he was white," Wood said. While the whole story may never be known Brooks' kin are either dead or have moved away one thing appears certain: Robert Brooks died defending freedoms he could not have enjoyed as a black man in 1941. The story drew some press coverage in 1941-42, 1941-42, 1941-42, but after 50 years it is almost forgotten. Brooks, however, is still remembered by older Scott County residents, and his story still surfaces there from time to time, said local historian Ann Bevins. "1 think it's a fascinating story, and a story that's part of America," she said. "It's interesting to me that the Army never got wind of the facts until they tried to find the parents." W.T. Warring, who then was cashier at the Farmers' Deposit Bank of Sadieville, was the man the Army contacted contacted during the war. "Somebody from Fort Knox called and said they were going to have this ceremony and wanted to know if someone could come and repre- repre- -fh"J -fh"J f , A t j, w f V&KAf if . S ... . : ....a-iiiil. ....a-iiiil. ....a-iiiil. M. LkZ. ' ,. ASSOCIATED PRESS As WW II began, Robert Brooks, left, was a black man In a white Army unit In the Philippines. He was one of the first Americans to die in the war. sent Sadieville," Warring recalled. "I said, 'His parents are tenant farmers, ordinary black people; maybe you could contact them and see if they could come.' "He called back and said, 'Did you say they were black?' I said, 'Yes, his mother and father are very dark.' He said, 'This might change things a little.' " But it did not. The dedication went on as planned Dec. 23, 1941. Maj. Gen. Jacob Devers, who then commanded armored armored forces at Fort Knox, ordered that the ceremony proceed, according to an Army news release at that time. "In death, there is no grade or rank," Devers said at the ceremony, attended by nine generals. "And in this, the greatest democracy the world has ever known, neither neither riches nor poverty, neither creed nor race, draws a line of demarcation in this hour of national crisis." At the outbreak of World War II, black soldiers were placed in separate units that usually were assigned to load trucks, build roads or wait on tables in officers' mess halls. Brooks may have tried to avoid that fate. Warring recalled that Brooks left Sadieville before finishing high school. "My understanding was that he first went off to Cincinnati and passed himself off as white up there. I think that's when he joined the Army," he said. The Kentucky National Guard has no record of Brooks, spokesman Donald Armstrong said. Details of the story were lost until last year, Armstrong said, when the Guard began preparing to mark the 50th anniversary anniversary of the call-up call-up call-up of the Harrodsburg tank unit and research turned up his story.