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Brooks was born on 30 October of 1919 in Greeneville, Tennessee. He recalls his childhood during the Great Depression. He grew up on a tobacco farm. After he graduated from high school Brooks decided he did not want to be a tobacco farmer.Brooks enlisted in the Navy after Hitler marched into Poland on 1 September 1939. He was accepted and a week later he was sent to the Naval Training Station at Norfolk, Virginia. He enlisted in the Navy because his eldest brother was in the Navy and he had grown up watching his brother in uniform and how happy he was in the service. Brooks recalls that his training was reduced by 3 weeks. He was transferred to a ship after graduating from training. He was assigned to the USS Pyro [Annotator's Note: USS Pyro (AE1)] which was a Navy ammunition ship out of San Francisco before shipping out to Honolulu on the USS Portland [Annotator's Note: heavy cruiser USS Portland (CA33)]. When he reached Honolulu he was transferred to the USS Houston [Annotator's Note: heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA30)] bound for duty with the Asiatic Fleet. USS Houston relieved the USS Augusta [Annotator's Note: heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA31)] in Manila. Brooks was in Manila when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.Aboard the ship Brooks was assigned to the electricians crew and in late 1940 he became an electricians mate 3rd class. He worked mostly below decks.A week before Pearl Harbor was bombed the ship was stripped for action. All unnecessary material was removed and they took on extra ammunition and spare parts. They left Manila Bay the night before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The same evening that Pearl Harbor was bombed Japanese planes dropped bombs around the USS Houston, but did no damage. Their destination was Surabaya, Java in the Dutch East Indies. From there they were assigned convoy duty from Australia to the East Indies. The Houston joined a convoy of British and Dutch ships.At Suribaya the Houston became part of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command [Annotator's Note: commonly referred to by the acronym ABDA] and joined up with the American light cruiser USS Marblehead [Annotator's Note: USS Marblehead, CL12], some Dutch ships, the Australian ship Perth [Annotator's Note: HMAS Perth, D29] a light cruiser, the British heavy cruiser Exeter [Annotator's Note: HMS Exeter, 68], several other smaller British and Dutch ships and 4 or 5 American destroyers.Brooks says their greatest handicap was the fact that they had no air support. Even the scout planes from the cruisers weren't much help because they were no match for the Japanese planes.
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