Eighty years ago, the United States was entering its second year of involvement in World War II.
Few were left untouched by the global conflict, and 13 men from Jamestown died serving their country. The hardest-hit local family was the Brooks family. Three first-cousins — Charles Brooks Jr, Bernard Anthony Brooks, and William Sweet — died.
William Brooks, the patriarch of the Brooks clan, was chief engineer on the Jamestown and Newport ferries from 1896 to 1918. He and his wife, Sarah, raised eight children in Jamestown, and most of them continued to live on the island as adults.
Charles Brooks Jr. was the only son of William and Sarah’s third child, Charles. He joined the Merchant Marine after graduating from Rogers High School, and worked on the ships of the American Export Lines in the late 1920s.
In the depths of the Great Depression, he was one of the many Jamestown men employed at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport.
In 1937, Brooks returned to the sea as assistant engineer on Norman Woolworth’s luxury yacht Viking for a South American and European cruise. He was then rehired by the American Export Lines.
Early in the war, the Merchant Marine was incorporated as a branch of the military forces, and Charles became a lieutenant commander serving in the Pacific.
In March 1945, he went ashore in the Philippines with a hunting party. The group was ambushed, and he was shot by a Japanese sniper. His only child, Susan, was 4 months old when her father died.
Bernard Anthony Brooks sailed aboard the Minesweeper USS Eagle (AM 132) (courtesy Navsource.org)
Bernard Anthony Brooks was the only son of Charles Sr.’s younger brother, Edward, the founder of the E.B. Brooks Oil Company. He was born and raised in Jamestown, and worked at his father’s oil company. For about two years, he served in the Merchant Marine as a junior engineer.
At the time of his death, Bernard was a Naval Reserve fireman, first class, on the minesweeper Eagle. He had become engaged to be married, and while he was at home in Jamestown, his automobile struck a culvert and telephone pole on East Shore Road. He died in November 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.
William Sweet was the son of the youngest of the Brooks family, Cornelia, and her husband, William Sweet. Twelve years younger than her brothers, Charles Sr. and Edward, who were only 13 months apart, Cornelia was in her teens when their father died.
Her two sons, William and David, were born in Jamestown, but the family moved to Newport while William was in grade school. William enlisted in the Army Air Force four months after graduating from Rogers High School in 1942 and initially was in training to serve on C-47 military transport planes.
He then received a reassignment to bombers. In July 1944, after training as an engineer, he was sent to North Africa, then Italy, where his crew joined the 513th Squadron of the 376th Bombardment Group (Heavy), flying 4-engine long-range B-24 Liberator bombers.
The crew already had flown 17 missions when, on Sept. 10, 1944, they took off to bomb an ordnance plant in Vienna, Austria. According to the bombardier on the mission, “The Vienna flak was heavy, intense, and accurate.”
It ripped a gaping hole in the right wing and punctured a gas tank. Other flak damaged the left wing. Flying home, with gasoline leaking from holes in the wings and a damaged distribution system, they ran out of fuel halfway across the Adriatic Sea.
All 10 crew members parachuted into the sea. William, who as engineer was responsible for the proper operation of the engines, was the next to last to leave the plane, and was one of the farthest down the 10-mile path that the plane traveled during the evacuation.
Most of the crew were picked up by an Italian fishing boat. Only Sweet and the ball-turret gunner were not found in the rough sea.