Major M. Brooks, a P-38 and P-47 fighter pilot during WWII, flew nearly a hundred missions in support of Allied troops, including Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Having flown 82 combat missions by the age of 23, Captain Brooks’ valor earned him several medals and decorations, including the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. His citations described his “distinctive aerial proficiency, exceptional valor, great courage, and extraordinary achievement.”
Hailing from middle America, Major was born September 28, 1922 in Ardmore, Oklahoma as the son of Major and Lillian Brooks. Times were good in the small American town until the “Dust Bowl” and Depression of the 1930s left most families poor, with little food, and very few jobs. At a young age, Major was up at 3:00 each morning to throw papers and joined his father at 5:00 in the local butcher shop and grocery store.
With the declaration of war, Major and 17 of his high school friends set out for California to build aircraft. Enlisting in the Army Air Corp and stationed in Ontario, California, his adventure in flight school commenced when he was first among fellow recruits in breaking the sound barrier over Santa Barbara. Many young men longed to join the Corp but few were chosen and, of those accepted, ten percent would die in training. Upon graduation, Major would leave for the flight line in 1943.
In 1944, Major joined the 367th Fighter Group, later known as the “Dynamite Gang,” and initially shipped to England in preparation for war. At age 19, the men experienced exhilaration in being overseas and seeing the world for the first time but were resolute in serving their country during its greatest challenge. Their photos depicted a brief period when the world was new and exciting before the horrors and destruction of war were fully realized.
Unusual for a 9th Air Force group, the 367th Fighter Group flew P-38 Lightnings from England in March 1944; only switching to P-47 Thunderbolts in February 1945 when flying out of Saint-Dizier, France. Stoney Cross, Hampshire, was their first base in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). As a base in southern England, it was the perfect location to fly short-range fighter sweeps and ground-strafing missions over German positions in northern France and provide air cover for invasion forces themselves in early June.
The group flew some incredible missions in the last year of the war. For a mission on 25 August 1944, the Group received their first Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC). The mission involved attacking landing grounds at Clastres, Peronne and Rosieries through an intense anti-aircraft barrage, engaging a number of enemy aircraft and then, despite a low fuel supply, strafing a train and convoy. Later the same day the 367th flew a fighter sweep of more than 800 miles, hitting landing grounds at Cognac, Bourges, and Dijon. On 26 December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, the Group escorted C-47s dropping supplies to Allied troops encircled at Bastogne. The Group was awarded a second DUC for action on 19 March 1945 when they managed to bomb and strafe the well-disguised headquarters of the German Commander-in-Chief (West), the newly-in-post Albert Kesselring, at Ziegenburg.
In WWII, fighter pilots on all sides tended to be very youthful at 21 or 22 years on average; 25 was considered mature, and 30 even more so. Yet there were many successful WWII fighter pilots aged around 30, some even older. The average life of a pilot was 5 days and by the end of the war, over 40,000 airmen were killed in combat theaters and another 18,000 wounded.
Major would land in Sainte-Mère-Église on Landing Strip #2 and the 367th Fighter Group began to move from that point through France. Four men were assigned to each tent in camp and Major returned from combat one fateful day to find himself alone, after 7 of 12 pilots were shot down and among the casualties.
Initially, Major made many friends but as the war progressed, he understood the sadness of loss. In the face of war and potential death, they took advantage of times during leave to enjoy what they could; even arranging a party for a Sainte-Mère-Église orphanage.
Major Brooks was made flight leader and awarded the Silver Star following a heroic mission where several of his flight team were attacked and shot down. On 19 November, 1944 fighter sweep to Duren, the 367th helped to fight off 25 Focke-Wulf 190s which attacked P-47s of the 368th Fighter Group. Lt Major M. Brooks dived almost to the treetops to shoot down his first plane. Closing on a second enemy fighter, he fired a long burst and watched the pilot bail out only 50′ above the ground. A few more rounds caused a 3rd 190 to erupt into smoke and flames, tumbling crazily to the ground. Brooks then fired on another enemy fighter, causing pieces to fly from its left wing. Only when 5 German planes appeared to fire upon Major, was he forced to break his attack.
Toward the end of the war, Major transferred to P-47s and a good friend, Hux, had orders to return home following his recently completed 99th mission. He chose, instead, to fly once more which would prove a fateful decision, as he was killed in action during the flight. Two other close friends were lost that same day, Cooney and Bowers, in August 1945. Major, who never fully recovered from the pain and loss would return years later to France in search of their graves. Of the 350 pilots of the 367th, over half were killed or captured during WWII.
Toward the end of Major’s tour, he recovered from flight fatigue with a brief stay in an English hospital. He then joined fighting at the front with Patton’s tank army as a ground controller for air support and would later participate in the liberation of concentration and war camps. With the declaration of the end of WWII, Major was awaiting orders to the Pacific in fighting against the Japanese.
Captain Major Brooks passed away on April 20, 2018 and leaves an honorable legacy for both his country and community. Having faced death during 82 missions, he faced life with abundant joy and love for his fellow man.
IN GRATITUDE FOR YOUR SERVICE AND VALOR
Images and history, courtesy of the Brooks family