BONIFAY — Hundreds of students from both Bonifay Middle School and Holmes County High School gathered together as Holmes County High School hosted a Veterans’ Day Presentation on Monday, honoring local veterans and teaching students the importance of honoring veterans.
“On Veterans’ Day, America pauses to honor every service member who has ever worn one of our nation’s uniforms,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sean Leeman. “Each time our country has come under attack they have risen to her defense. Each time our freedoms have come under assault they have responded with resolve.”
Leeman introduced their guest speaker Cynthia Brooks by first giving a brief history of who she is.
She was born in DeFuniak Springs; her father, Edward C. Nall was a World War II veteran; she graduated from Okaloosa Walton Junior College and the University of West Florida with a bachelor of science in medical technology; worked at Doctors Memorial Hospital where she met her husband Dr. Herbert Brooks; she is past president and District 2 Director of Bonifay Woman’s Club; she is a member of FSU Garnet Key Honor Society; she graduated Cum Laude FSU with a masters degree in science education; she has been teaching science at Holmes County High School since 1989; she’s been married to Dr. Herbert Brooks for almost 35 years; they have a daughter, Erin Brooks Lauen who lives in Kennesaw, Ga. with her husband David Lauen, Jr. and their three children Tucker, Arena and Sadie; she has been a BETA sponsor at Holmes County High School for 25 years and is an honorary Holmes County High School JROTC Captain.
“’The people of hope are those who believe that God created them for a purpose and that he will provide for their needs as they seek to fulfill His purpose in their lives,’ is a quote from Pope John Paul II,” said Cynthia Brooks. “As we honor these veterans today for their service to our country we must ask ourselves what we have done or what are we going to do with the freedoms these men and women have sacrificed to give us. I would like to tell you the story of one veteran that I know very well; he saw the sacrifice all around him and understood the gift of freedom he was given and was able to follow his dreams because of the sacrifice of the veterans that came before him.”
She was speaking of her husband Dr. Herbert Brooks, who was born in Washington D.C. on Dec. 3, “fifty miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
“He was the second of three sons born to Donald and Doris Coldrey Brooks and he is the great-great grandson of Theodore Brooks, M.D., a surgeon in the Union Army from Piqua, Oh.,” she said. “His great-great uncle was an Episcopal pastor and later presided over the funeral of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. His grandfather, Herbert B. Brooks, worked with Thomas Edison as one of the original Edison Pioneers and his father, Donald, was Director of Fuel and Lubricant Research for the U.S. Department of Defense during World War II.”
She said his mother was born in Ottawa, Canada and became a naturalized American citizen in 1939.
“As a young boy, it was Herb’s duty to take his grandfather to French and German church on Sundays and as a result he learned to speak fluent French and German,” she said. “When he was twelve years old his father took him to a Washington Redskins football game for his birthday; it was Dec. 7, 1941 and during the game the announcement came over the loud speaker over and over again, ‘all military personnel to your duty stations immediately, this is not a drill.’ The stands came alive as uniformed men and women from all branches of service quickly began to leave for their posts and finally the announcer said ‘the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.’”
She said that at that time there was confusion about where Pearl Harbor was located because in 1941 Hawaii was still only a U.S. territory and not a state yet so “most people had no idea where Pearl Harbor was or that most of the U.S. Pacific fleet was based there.”
“At that point in his young life, Herb didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he knew that whatever he did, he wanted to make a difference,” she said. “He was too young to join the service and go to war so he knew he would have to work hard to finish school and to go to college, which was no easy feat in those days. There were no scholarships, so he started to work with two paper routes, one before and one after school; he worked as a soda jerk, curb manager for a Hot Shoppe and a grocery store manager.”
From the time he started work his father had insisted that he save 40 percent for college and deducted 50 percent for room and board which left him with only 10 percent to spend; with a wage of 25 cents per hour that was 2.5 cents, she said.
“It never occurred to him to ask or expect someone else to pay for his education; he knew what he wanted to do and he had the courage and tenacity to do it,” she said. “After high school he went Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., playing football to get good meals and after graduation from Wabash, he was accepted to the University of Indiana Medical School but for financial reasons he was unable to accept; it was one of the greatest disappointments of his life but he remembered ‘when God puts a mountain in your path, you don’t sit at the foot of it and cry, you set out and climb it.’ After two years of work at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. doing research on blood coagulation he was accepted to the University of Maryland College of Medicine in Baltimore and he began to fulfill his dream.”
She said during his final year of medical school he entered in the Navy Senior medical student program and interned with the U.S. Navy in Portsmouth, Va. serving as a medical officer in orthopedics. After that, she said he entered the Navy school of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola where he received “intensive training in ophthalmology and flight training. He was assigned to Ellyson Field helicopter training command in Pensacola for three years.
“As a Flight Surgeon, Dr. Brooks was responsible for making sure that flight personnel were healthy enough to fly, but just as important he had to know exactly how a pilot feels, which required that he fly with them routinely,” she said. “Unlike Air Force pilots, Navy pilots have to be able to take off and land on a moving carrier flight deck only 600 feet long, the length of two football fields; a very dangerous occupation.”
She said he was transferred to an experimental jet fighter squadron in Point Mugu, Calif. near Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is the headquarters of the Pacific missile range.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and participated in high altitude, high-speed weapon and radar research, she said.
“On one occasion, as Dr. Brooks flew radar-intercept in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom jet off of the coast of California, his pilot attempted to land on the carrier deck, but the tail hook of the jet failed to catch one of the three cables that crossed the flight deck,” said Brooks. “The jet stalled and started to fall into the water in front of the carrier, which meant certain death. Fortunately the pilot, a former Blue Angel, gunned the engine and the jet came alive again and finally lifted them out of harms way, spraying seawater on everyone on the flight deck.”
She said there was another incident where a pilot got lost over the Pacific Ocean but thanks to another pilot finding them on radar, guided them to the runway.
“These are only two examples of the many narrow escapes for Dr. Brooks during his Navy career,” she said. “In April 1961, a young and inexperienced President John F. Kennedy faced the first major crisis of his presidency when the tiny island of Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida, was quickly becoming a foothold for Communist Russia in the Western Hemisphere and President Kennedy’s challenge was to stop this incursion without starting World War III. He decided to help the Cuban rebels by sending U.S. aircraft to provide air support but the first wave was unsuccessful and President Kennedy cancelled the second wave of aircraft leaving many freedom fighters stranded.”
She said among those in route from California to Cuba was radar intercepting officer Lt. Commander Herbert Brooks aboard an F-4 Phantom jet.
“He resigned his Navy commission, completed a two-year residency in family practice and moved his family to Bonifay,” she said. “When Dr. Brooks first visited Bonifay in October of 1964 he was only suppose to stay a week filling in for a vacationing doctor but he fell in love with the community and the people and decided to return when he had finished his residency. Over the past five decades Dr. Brooks, a Board Certified Family Physician, has served five generations of patients with dedication and compassion and delivered more than 1,000 babies during his medical career.”
She said he as served on the Board of Directors for the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, becoming president in 1986; served many years as a delegate to the Florida Medical Association; locally, he was President of the Kiwanis Club and has served on the board of many local civic, medical, church and community boards.
“The Bonifay Kiwanis Club honored Dr. Brooks in 2003 as the Grand Marshall of the Bonifay Rodeo Parade and in 2007 the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce selected him as the Business of the Year,” she said. “However, not of these opportunities and honors would have been possible without the men and women in the service of this country; men and women who fought and died to prevent the spread of Japanese Imperialism, Italian Fascism, German Nazism and Russian Communism to the United States and to the world. Today men and women are fighting and dying to prevent the global spread of terrorism and he was a part of the generation of Freedom Fighting Americans that made it possible for the rest of us to sleep peacefully in our beds at night knowing our freedoms are still intact.”
She said the dangers we face today are “much more insidious.”
“We must all be constantly vigilant to prevent our constitutional rights from being taken away from us little by little; much like a frog that doesn’t realize he is in hot water until it is too late,” she said. “The Brooks family motto is ‘Perseverando,’ which means to persevere and describes his life because when he encountered obstacles to his goals he figured out how to overcome them, followed his dreams and made a difference; he remembered to ‘face the fear, know what you have to do and do it.’ So today on this Veterans’ Day, let us reflect on what we are doing with the freedoms others have died for and thank the veterans in this room and all over the country for the freedom and privilege to be able to reach our goals and dreams.”