United States Army Private First Class Thomas Franklin Brooks, “Frank” to his family and friends, died December 10, 1942, at the age of 23, during World War II while a prisoner of the Japanese military in the Philippines having fought in the Battle of Bataan.
He was born October 3, 1919, near the forks of the Nolin River close to Mammoth Cave in the Straw community of Edmonson County, devoted son of Charles Smith Brooks and Francis Isabell Priddy Brooks and beloved brother to Cardelia, Abraham, Louella, Hubert, Almon, Easol, Ralph, Wanda, Bertie, Zula, and Eula.
Frank was saved at as a young boy and was a member of Pleasant Hill United Baptist Church. He attended school with his brothers and sisters at the one room Nolin schoolhouse until 8th grade.
One of his teachers, Arless Page, inquired about Frank while he was fighting in the Philippines and he remarked on Frank’s character as, “…a splendid young man.” Sadly, Arless would also be killed in Germany, 10 days before the war ended in 1945.
In January 1941, Frank, his brother Easol and close friend Cortland Kidwell, joined the Army together in Louisville, Kentucky. Frank was assigned to D Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky while Easol and Cortland were sent to Texas.
D Company was comprised almost completely of men from Kentucky, as it had previously been a Kentucky National Guard unit from Harrodsburg. In October 1941, the 192nd was ordered to the Philippines to reinforce the Army of the Far East under General Douglas MacArthur.
Prior to leaving for the Philippines, Frank returned home to visit his loving family. His sister Wanda, 17 at the time, recalled the family taking him to the L&N train depot in Bowling Green and saying goodbye, “He would not let us go up the steps with him.” This would be the last time Frank would see his family.
The 192nd shipped out from San Francisco and arrived in the Philippines on November 20, 1941. They were attacked by the Japanese just 18 days later and Frank and his comrades fought valiantly for 4 months against an overwhelming force of the Japanese Army until food and supplies were exhausted.
He was wounded in battle and was admitted to a field hospital before the American forces were surrendered by their Commanders on April 10, 1942. He was later imprisoned in the Cabanatuan POW camp and survived 8 months of brutal captivity, suffering from disease, starvation, and unspeakable cruelty at the hands of his Japanese captors.
When he died, he was buried within the confines of the camp in a communal grave with 8 other men. In July 1943, The War Department notified the family by telegram that Frank had died. His mother never recovered from the loss as she continued to carry the tremendous burden of having three other sons fighting in the war.
When the Japanese surrendered and the war ended in 1945, there were multiple attempts to identify the 2,700 men who had died as prisoners. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful in identifying Frank’s remains and he was buried as an unknown among the 17,000 graves of the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines and is listed as one of the 36,286 missing from the war in the Pacific.
In 2014 his sister Eula (1931-2015), along with other nieces and nephews provided DNA samples in hopes that he could be identified. In 2018 his remains were disinterred from the Philippines for potential identification by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and on June 20, 2023, his family was notified that a positive identification had been made.
The family requested that he be returned to Kentucky for burial in honor of his Mother’s request. His parents and siblings passed without the closure from his return.
The memories of Frank have been passed on to future generations of the family so that his selfless sacrifice will never be forgotten. After more than 80 years since his death, it will be a glorious homecoming for the surviving 37 nieces and nephews as he is returned to Kentucky and Edmonson County for burial beside his parents.
His remains will be flown (date to be determined) from Hawaii to the Louisville International Airport where there will be a planeside transfer and ceremony conducted by an Army Honor Guard. Family and others wishing to pay tribute will be there to witness and participate in this solemn and honorable occasion. From the airport there will be a procession to Patton Funeral Home in Brownsville, Ky, which will be led by the Kentucky State Police and members of Rolling Thunder and other military veterans. There will also be a procession on the day of the burial from the funeral home to the burial site. He will be laid to rest at 11:00 am, on Sunday, October 1, 2023, at the Hill Grove Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery where he will receive military honors. His military awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, POW medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic / Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the Philippine Defense Medal.
On April 9, 1942, a radio broadcast from Corregidor, Philippines reported the bravery of the American soldiers fighting in the Battle of Bataan.
“The world will long remember the epic struggle that American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness of Bataan. They have stood up uncomplaining, under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for more than four months. Cut off from all sources of help, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear. All the world will testify to the most superhuman endurance with which they stood up, until the last, in the face of overwhelming odds.”