Albion Central School Veterans History Project – Interview Transcript

Interviewee: Charles Avery Brooks
Interviewer: Katherine Keeler
Place of Birth: Albion, New York
Date of Interview: June 18, 2004
Date of Birth: July 12, 1916
Place of Residence: Albion, New York

War(s) in which Interviewee Served: World War II
Branch of Service or Wartime Activity: U.S. Army
Battalion, Regiment, Division, Unit, Ship, etc.: 94th Artillery
Method of Induction: Enlisted
Service Dates: April 6, 1942 to December 7, 1945
Location of Military or civilian service: England, France
Other information: Veteran sustained combat/service-related injuries

Transcript:

Keeler: Hi, I’m Katie Keeler and I am doing a veteran’s history project for our Close Up class. I am interviewing Charles Avery Brooks, he is my great-grandfather who served in World War II. We are at his house in Albion, New York, and I will go ahead with the interview.

What did you do before you joined the service?

Brooks: I was sacking cabbage for Maynard Reed, I believe.

Keeler: And where were you living here?

Brooks: I lived in Eagle Harbor, New York.

Keeler: Did you enlist or were you drafted?

Brooks: I volunteered with my brother, Bob. Bob was drafted and I was a volunteer.

Keeler: Did you get to choose your branch of service when you went into the war?

Brooks: Pardon?

Keeler: Did you get to choose your branch of service?

Brooks: No. We were sent to Rochester at the draft board, then we were sent to Fort Niagara, and then they sent us to…we were there maybe two days or three…then they sent us to Fort Knox, Kentucky. That is armored artillery. I was put in the 4th armored…94th artillery.

Keeler: What were your first days like, in the service?

Brooks: Well, there’s enough…a lot of exercise…and kind of new to me, everything. Had to learn to be on time for everything. And we really experienced like I never had before.

Keeler: Were you scared at all, when you found out where you were going, or did you know where you were going, at first?

Brooks: No, I don’t believe I was, no. I took the flow like the rest of them.

Keeler: Was there any specific reason why you enlisted? Were there any?

Brooks: No, I don’t believe there was. I had an eardrum that was broke, before I left, but they still drafted me, just the same. They said, “You can hear good enough, take away.”

Keeler: Where were you on December 7th, during the Pearl Harbor attack?

Brooks: I believe I was home here at the Eagle Harbor Depot, sacking cabbage for Maynard Reed.

Keeler: And where were you at the end of the war?

Brooks: Pardon?

Keeler: Where were you at the end of the war?

Brooks: End of the war, I was in France, South Soissons.

Keeler: Where did you serve, like, during the war, in your first days going over?

Brooks: I served…do I start from when I went to camps around the States?

Keeler: Yeah. Yeah, that’d be cool.

Brooks: Well, we’ve already left Niagara…Fort Niagara. We was there 13 weeks. Then we went to Pine Camp, and we was there all summer until…I think, believe it was in December or somewhere in there we was shipped to Tennessee maneuvers. We was there for 13 weeks or somewhere in there. Then from there we went to California desert…Mojave Desert, is it? That was near Needles, California. From there, we went back to Bowie, Texas. And we were there until that fall, or somewhere around in November-December, and was sent to Boston, Massachusetts. We had, I believe, Christmas dinner there, and then we got on the boat and we was on the boat for about 12 to 14 days. Went titter-tattering, zig-zagging with a big convoy of boats. Went across, it took us…we had New Year’s Day on the boats. Then we landed in Devizes, England. Then we was in there…I was in there for…it was foggy and wet, mist, boy, you could never get your clothes dry… Went into the dentist, I took…the dentist worked on my teeth; he had to pump it, pump it with a foot, the drill. So then we went…they sent me to the hospital in England to see if they could make my ear better in that, but they didn’t have no luck. One day, the battery commander and my brother, Bob, and the battery clerk [Pvt./Corp./Sgt. Zerkle of Battery A, 4th Armored] came to the hospital and asked me if I thought I should go along with the outfit…the 94th. And they didn’t…the four of us decided that I shouldn’t go, because I couldn’t hear. Because you’re in a tank, you’re in with five or six other people. If you miss a command, you can ball up the whole section. So they transferred me into 325, I believe it was, ammo outfit…ammunition. Then they…I was in there with them for a while, and we went across this Channel. I believe I went across 12 days after the D-Day. I believe it was 12, or maybe a little more. And when you get out of an LST, you walk right in the water, they drop the front of the boat down, you walk right in the water onto the shore. And then…

[Interruption: camera/interview cut off briefly]

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Okay, we’re back.

Katherine Keeler: You can go ahead.

Brooks: Now you want me to… I was put in that hospital, they tried to put a thing up my nose that had a sponge on it, squeeze it you get air through the eardrum. Didn’t work, it’s still deader than a doornail. That was in France, no that would be in England, yet. Then we crossed the channel into Normandy. And landed in Devizes, well, wait a minute. I was in Normandy. The war ended the 12th (of May) in 1945. I was in 325 Ordinance Ammunition Company. And I drove…I was on guard duty, at first. And then, after that, when I was on guard duty, the Germans came in and bombed some of the ammo. I was off-duty that night and day, sleeping in a trench, and I heard…got up out of that trench and run across, tried to cross…and I got into a swamp, didn’t make it. So I had to come back, and I took the higher ground, got up next to a building, and the big 240 shells were firing, bombing, and I stood next to a building. Those buildings are all slate shingles, and when that big shell shakes the ground, those shells would…shingles would fall off the building. They go over you, so long as you stay close to the building. All right, that was one of my experiences.

And after that, shortly after that, we was moved up, the outfit did, toward the front line, closer.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Now this all took place where?

Brooks: In France.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: In France.

Brooks: Yup. In Normandy, that did.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: That was, like, how long…?

Brooks: We was in only about five miles in from the Normandy shore.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: This was after the invasion?

Brooks: Yup.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Okay. Like how long, probably, after the invasion?

Brooks: About, about maybe a month, maybe a month….or less.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Okay. And you were how old when all this took place?

Brooks: Twenty-five. Or maybe 26, because July would be my…

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Your birthday would be coming up…

Brooks: Yeah. Then we moved up, and I drove…was on guard duty. Then they took me off from guard duty and had me work out in the Area…they called it...where you put ammo, along the road. They only put so many ton, 25 ton, one here and then another hundred yards or so down the road, another a hundred, another 25 ton. So I had to watch the Germans unload the trucks, then put a pile up, and they had to all go by zone numbers. They’d put everything by zone. And that was all 105’s, 205’s, and the powder for them. And then small ammunition…that all went into caves. After that, we moved up again through Soissons,…er, no…moved up through St. Lo. And I’ll never forget St. Lo---was just a pile of stones [rubble from American bombing]. All…we had a hard time getting up through there with the tanks. That’s what we had with our equipment trucks.

And then, after that, we got to…near Soissons, we was outside of Soissons, two miles. And the Germans came in…this is more towards the end of the war…and bombed that depot. Well, there was several cars of gasoline in there, and several cars of ammunition. Well, they called our outfit to come in to help with it. And I rode down with the guy driving a tank, with a bulldozer on the front. And when we got down there, Colonel Parker, his name was, he was on the phone in that depot. And he told us to come right up them steps [of the railroad depot]…it must have been probably ten, fifteen steps, right up. We drove that tank right up through them steps and right through the depot door, and stopped, and he says, “Go right out the other end.” We went right through the depot and got out on the railroad tracks and then we had to separate the cars…pull them out, the ammo. What happened, the French, they was running the engine on the railroad and they got scared and took off. Well the army was lucky, they found a couple of MP’s, or an MP that knew how to run an engine…railroad engine…well, he got in there and he started pulling them out. But we had to…I crawled, and “Red” Messick, I always called him “Red,” crawled right in under the cars, underneath, as close as we could to the fire, and hook…unhook them. And we saved pretty near all of the ammo, and the gasoline didn’t go, either. They lost, I guess, some of the ammo. But that was one of my closest experiences, being to crawl in under them cars. Only, you stayed under there close, it didn’t bother.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: So that was….was that one of your more dangerous…?

Brooks: Yes, it was one of my more dangerous jobs.

Katherine Keeler: Would you say that was one of your most memorable experiences?

Brooks: Yes, that would be.

Katherine Keeler: Were you ever, like, scared or fearful at that time about anything?

Brooks: No, I don’t think I was. I was young and you didn’t think of those things, then. I’d say I was young.

Katherine Keeler: When you were…when you had any time to yourself, how did you pass the time during the war?

Brooks: Well, I’d try to write letters to my mother, most of the time. Yes, I did forget to tell you that I had a crew of Germans, 25 men, out on the road. They got the ammo mixed up, by the zones, and I had to make them sort that pile all over again. Well, they didn’t want to do it. So I asked them again, politely…you gotta politely ask them…to do it. Well, they still didn’t want to do it. Here I am with just a carbine, no ammo in it…they didn’t know that, though. And one of my NCO’s come and helped me straighten them out.

Katherine Keeler: So, to stay in touch with people at home, you just wrote letters to your relatives?

Brooks: Yes. Most generally we didn’t have much exercise…morning exercise, maybe. Use to play, you know, in the States, different things….not after you went across. You did have a swimming pool one place, of course. Used to be able to go in town…I was in Paris, once…several times into Soissons. I used to even take personnel in by truck…into Soissons.

Katherine Keeler: Did you ever receive a lot of letters from people at home? That people might have wrote to you?

Brooks: Quite a few, yes. Quite a few. Mother, and my girlfriend.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: How often? How often did the mail come?

Brooks: About every day, must be, got in mail call most every day when I was there where I was. See, this is, back in that ammo, you’re in there, kind of a non-combat…course, they could come in there at you sometime or something like that, bomb us…. Or then, like, we could have…front line ended up quite a ways ahead of you.

Katherine Keeler: Do you remember any skills or lessons that you learned over there…over in France?

Brooks: Do I remember what?

Katherine Keeler: Any skills or lessons that you learned during your days?

Brooks: Now which one was that?

Katherine Keeler: Any skills or lessons?

Brooks: Well, I learned how to run that halftrack there, that bulldozer…they didn’t think I could even run it. But I did know how to do that. And I learned how to drive a truck. I knew somewhat about a truck before, but nothing like the big ones that they had there. That’s how I got my T-5. Course, they gave me a PFC and a T-5.

Katherine Keeler: I guess we can move on to after your service and after the war. Do you recall the day that you left the service?

Brooks: I was…left Camp Dix, when I discharged, and it was on the 6th, I believe, and I got home. My folks lived in Albion, but the house is torn down now. And it was on my mother’s birthday, the 7th of December.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: The 7th of December in …. ?

Brooks: 1945.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: 1945.

Brooks: I had to…I didn’t come home as quick as some of them because I didn’t have the points. They would let them out by points. And, not being up in the front lines, you don’t get as many points as you in battle.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: So when you first started, what was the date when you first…

Katherine Keeler [answering based on previously gathered information]: April 6th, 1942.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: And he finished…came home on…

Katherine Keeler: December 7th, 1945.

Brooks [agreeing]: I came home on…yeah.

Katherine Keeler. Let’s see…what did you do in the days or the weeks or months after the service?

Brooks: I went right to work for Jim Robinson.

Katherine Keeler: Where did you work at?

Brooks: That was a gasoline and coal distributor, right down here on the corner of [Route] 31 and Eagle Harbor Road.

Katherine Keeler: Did you make any close friendships with anyone that you served with in the war?

Brooks: Well…not so much, I believe. I always had friends around, I know, but some of them you favor a little more than you do the other.

Katherine Keeler: Did your wartime career contribute to what you did after the war? Did anything that you learned from the war carry on with you throughout the rest of your career?

Brooks: After my career, I joined VFW, and I guess I joined the Elk’s Club after that.. Two, but that’s it.

Katherine Keeler: Do you still attend, like, any reunions with…?

Brooks: We went to one or two…we went to my outfit, the 4th Armored…the 94th Armored have a reunion every fall. We went to one in Buffalo…where was the other one?

Mrs. Louise Brooks/Mrs. Teri Keeler: They were both in Buffalo.

Brooks: We went to two in Buffalo. But I don’t go a long ways away…they have them all over the States, and I don’t.... This year, it’s in Michigan…Kalamazoo, I think.

Katherine Keeler: Well, thank you, Grandpa, for letting me interview you.

Brooks: Oh, you’re welcome.

Katherine Keeler: It was very interesting.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: How about all those documents there…you want to just point those out, what Grandpa’s been holding there?

Katherine Keeler: Sure.

Brooks: That one there…

Katherine Keeler: Which was this? This is the Qualification Record?

Brooks: Discharge.

Katherine Keeler: Discharge Record.

Katherine Keeler: This is a picture of Grandpa, he was…this was when he was enlisted. And these are just some of the medals that he received. Some of these include Good Conduct, American Campaign, American-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, The Bronze Star, and the World War II Victory Medal. Over here are some documents that he still has. Some of them include his discharge records, and some certificates.

Brooks: This one here is…I can read them off to you better, probably.

Katherine Keeler: Okay.

Brooks: I was three months, Private, Field Artillery Basic Training. They marked the number down as 521. Then seven months, Private…there’s that word we asked you there, Mother. Please, I asked you that word yesterday and I can’t say it…

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Oh…”cannoneer.”

Brooks: Cannoneer, number 845. Two months, PFC, Machine Gun Gunner, Heavy, 605. Ten months, T-5 Ammunition Handler, 901. Sixteen months, P-5 Truck Driver, Light, 345.

Katherine Keeler: Is that all…? Very, very interesting to look at, too. Okay. That about concludes our interview, and thank you, Grandpa, very much for all your help.

[resuming taping after brief pause]

Katherine Keeler: We just thought of something that we wanted to mention…you can go ahead.

Brooks: All right, my brother Bob was with me all the time, ‘til we was in England, and then was separated. And he went all the way. He went through combat all the way. My sister was in this…prisoner of Japanese over in the Celebes Islands, Borneo. About five years a prisoner, her and her husband. They were missionaries. My brother, Keith, he was in the Seabees [CB’s], and he was over in the Pacific. And Dean, my brother Dean, he was in the service, but he was in later, after the war, but he made a career of it. And my sister, she probably had it harder than all three boys did. She had to sleep in a pigpen, I think it was. And she was with a lady that was from Canada…no, from America…and Ruth was married to [Ernie] Prestwood a Canadian priest. And they didn’t treat the Canadians as hard as they did the Americans….as Japanese prisoners, so she got away with a little some things.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: What was your sister’s job?

Brooks: Missionary.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Missionary?

Brooks: She was in Borneo, over with the wild people.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: And what was her name?

Brooks: Her name is Ruth Hutchinson.

Mrs. Brooks: It wasn’t Hutchinson then….

Brooks: No, at that time it was Ruth Preston.

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Ruth Preston?

Brooks: …Prestwood, wasn’t it?

Mrs. Teri Keeler: Prestwood?

Mrs. Brooks/Mr. Brooks/Mrs. Keeler [together]: Prestwood.

Brooks: And then, they come back home and Ruth was in pretty good health, and got her health back, but her husband didn’t, and he went back and wasn’t built up good and died. He lost it. And my sister wrote two books on the Missionary. And she’s working on the second book, I think, yet. She’s 93 years old.

Mrs. Brooks: She was there five years. She was a prisoner five years; did you tell them?

Brooks: Yes, I told them.

Katherine Keeler: Okay, well, thank you very much for that additional information.