Paula L. Ratliff and the Family of Frank Brooks
One of the Tankers is finally coming home after more than 80 years.
U.S. Army Private First-Class Thomas Franklin Brooks will be laid to rest near his childhood home in Edmonson County, on Sunday, Oct. 1, at 11 a.m. central time. Brooks died as a prisoner of war of the Japanese Army in the Philippines during World War II. Born Oct. 3, 1919. Brooks was 23 years old when he died Dec. 10, 1942.
His remains are scheduled to arrive at Louisville International Airport Thursday, Sept. 28, at 5:30 p.m. eastern time. After a plane side transfer, the funeral procession will proceed to the Patton Funeral Home in Brownsville.
Brooks—known as “Frank” to his family and friends, joined the army Jan. 20, 1941, and was stationed at Ft. Knox. He was a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion, known as the “Harrodsburg Tankers.” The Tankers were one of the first units sent to reinforce US forces in the Philippines, arriving Nov. 20, 1941, just 18 days before the attack at Pearl Harbor. The unit defended the islands, fighting in the “Battle of Bataan” until April 1942 when the US forces were surrendered. Brooks was wounded and hospitalized prior to being imprisoned in the Cabanatuan POW camp in Northern Luzon, Philippines, in May 1942. Over 1,500 Americans and 26,000 Filipinos died in the prison camp.
Many of his comrades who were captured when the Americans surrendered were forced to march the “Bataan Death March” to the POW camp. It is estimated that 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war marched approximately 65 miles through tropical conditions, enduring heat, humidity and rain without adequate medical care, food or clothing. It is estimated that over 650 Americans and 16,500 Filipinos died during the march.
Despite his injuries, Brooks managed to survive eight months in captivity before dying Dec. 10, 1942, as a result of starvation and brutality at the hands of his Japanese captors. He was buried by other US prisoners in a communal grave with 8 eight other men.
After the war ended, US officials made multiple attempts to identify the men who had died as prisoners; however, they were unable to identify Brooks and he was eventually buried as an unknown among the 17,000 graves of the American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. In 2014, family members submitted DNA samples to officials of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in hopes that his remains could be identified. In 2018, the remains were disinterred for the purpose of potential identification and the family was notified on June 20, 2023 that a positive identification had been made.
U.S. Army veteran (retired) Gerald Carroll is a great nephew to Brooks and was instrumental in corresponding with the Army and DPAA over the years, keeping hope alive Brooks would be identified and returned home.
“In 1948, Frank’s oldest sister, Cardelia Sanders, passionately pleaded with the military to bring him home,” Carroll said. “She wrote in a letter to the Quartermaster General, ‘I know you have a big job to attend to all this, but we do wish you could find his remains and ship them home as Mother wished it to be done.’ With Frank’s homecoming, we have honored the wishes of his parents and his family,”
Brooks was the seventh of 12 children and is survived by 37 nieces and nephews and over 200 great nieces and nephews. Of six men in the family of 12, five served in the military including Frank, Hubert, Easol, Almon and Ralph. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Brooks family.
Upon enlistment, Brooks was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox. D Company was previously the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky Army National Guard from Harrodsburg which was federalized to active duty on November 25, 1940. D Company was comprised almost completely of men from Kentucky. They were known as the “Harrodsburg Tankers.” Of the 66 original members, only 37 returned home. The last surviving member, Morgan French of Vine Grove, died in 2013.
Brooks was known to come home often while he was stationed at Fort Knox, bringing friends with him to enjoy his family and home cooked meals. During his service, he sent numerous letters and postcards home, several of which are carefully memorialized. He was described as a strong and robust man providing a legacy of eternal greatness.
A graveside service with full military honors will be held Sunday, Oct. 1, at 11 a.m. central time. Hill Grove Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery is located at 1900 Dickeys Mill Road, Mammoth Cave. Brooks will be buried beside his parents.
The funeral will be open to the public but limited seating is available. People are encouraged to bring a lawn chair. Parking arrangements and transportation have been arranged across the street from the cemetery.
A road sign was erected several years ago on Dickeys Mill Road, across from his homeplace and before the cemetery. A yellow ribbon will be placed there to welcome him home.
During the graveside service, his family will be presented with his honors: The Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, POW Medal, Army Good Conduct medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and the Philippine Defense Medal. Other presentations are expected and will be announced as available.
Gov. Andy Beshear ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in his honor.
The family intends to donate his uniform, casket flag and medals to the Edmonson County Veterans Hall of Honor located in the Edmonson County Court House.