Having three U.S. Army Generals in the same family is not an unheard of development. But for those generals to be a father and two sons, all of them living and each of them African American — that is one for the record books.
In fact, the Brooks family of Alexandria is the only African-American family that can claim that status in American history. Last Friday at the Library of Congress, Maj. Gen. Leo A. Brooks, Sr. (Ret.), and Brig. Gen. Leo A. Brooks, Jr. (Ret.), were presented with a Freedom Team Salute Commendation for their service to this nation during a Black History Month event.
Also presented with commendations during the two-hour ceremony were representatives of the Maryland 9th and 10th Cavalry Horse Soldiers Association, known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," and Marion Fegley, a fifth-grade teacher at White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, whose class sang and read original poems honoring the Buffalo Soldiers. Ms. Fegley also has a son serving in Iraq.
"Black soldiers have distinguished themselves since the beginning of this country's history. And, particularly in this times we are all defenders of freedom," said John P. McLaurin, deputy assistant secretary, Human Resources, U.S. Army, in opening the commendation ceremony.
"The Buffalo Soldiers were trail blazers earning more than 20 medals of honor for their gallantry. They dispelled the old myth that black men don't make good soldiers — they made great soldiers," McLaurin said.
One of those present to receive the commendation was Command Sergeant Major Curtis Womack (Ret.), the recipient of four purple hearts as a veteran of both the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War. He was part of the last division officially designated "Buffalo Soldiers."
Although today's U.S. Army has more than 40 African-American generals, there is no other family that can claim the distinction enjoyed by the Brooks family. General Books senior, born and raised in Alexandria, served for 30 years prior to retiring from active
duty in the 1980's. His son, Leo Jr., recently retired after 27 years of active duty. The Brooks' youngest son, Brig. Gen. Vincent
Brooks is presently on active duty in Iraq.
FRIDAY'S PROGRAM was to honor "African-American Heroes" by Freedom Team Salute, an organization established on May 2, 2005 to recognize "the essential bond between soldiers, family, and community; celebrate the sacrifices made by all who support our soldiers; and honor the millions of soldier veterans who have served and remain as living connections to generations of duty, honor and patriotism."
"The term veteran can apply to a lot of things. But, today we are talking about military veterans. And particularly those put in harm's way -- they are war veterans," Leo Brooks, Sr., told the overflow crowd assembled in the Montpelier Room.
"This causes me to not only remember modern war veterans but also all down through our history. Many black veterans had to wait to serve or were called only when the nation found itself in deep trouble," he said citing the fact that George Washington had decreed no recruitment of "negroes" into the Continental Army. When the British won at the Battle of Quebec "he rescinded that order," Brooks said.
"The saddest thing about American history is how the heroics of black veterans was left out of our text books until recent times. Their heroism can be traced from before Valley Forge to Yorktown," General Brooks, Sr., said.
He also related how during the U.S. Civil War many blacks fought and died for the Union cause. "My great grandfather broke away from slavery in Manassas and fought at the Battle of Bull Run. He is buried in Alexandria," Brooks Sr. said.
However, he also emphasized that "no one in my family served in the military until I was commissioned in 1954. And, I am a proud American veteran."
Leo Sr. served two tours of duty in Vietnam.
One of five children of Evelyn L. Brooks and the late Rev. Houston G. Brooks Jr., General Leo A. Brooks, Sr., upon graduation from Parker-Gray High School in 1950 enrolled in Virginia State University. His intentions to become a high school band teacher were cut short when, as an ROTC student, he became a Second Lieutenant upon graduation.
Thirty years later, Maj. General Brooks retired.
GENERAL LEO A. BROOKS, JR., carried on that military heritage as a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He became the first African American Commandant at The Point.
"This is a time for all Americans to reflect on the sacrifices of those who struggled, and continue to struggle, to make this country a land where you are judged on your character, not on your color, gender or ethnicity. It is about ensuring we all have a chance to live the American dream," Leo Jr. said.
"My forefathers were limited by laws and attitudes, and their ability to vote, travel as they pleased, get an education or a certain job or even find a decent place to live. One avenue for blacks to prove their worth was by volunteering to serve the very country that was denying them the basic rights of citizenship and human dignity," he stated.
Leo Brooks, Jr. went on to relate the story of another father and son military team. Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first black general officer in the U.S. Army and his son Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a three star general in the U.S. Air Force and commander of the famed "Tuskegee Airmen" of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
"Davis (Jr.) rose to his rank and responsibility by being a skilled, fair, and professional leader, and he was determined to prove, in every way, that African-Americans can perform as well as anyone in any position and could lead whites without revenge or rancor," Leo Jr. said.
Presenting the commendations was Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, deputy chief of staff, G-1, U.S. Army. "Today is about legacy -- an American legacy. Not everyone can wear a uniform and bear arms. But, everyone can serve," he said in paying tribute to Mrs. Leo (Evelyn) Brooks, Sr., who joined her husband and son at the ceremony.
Leo A. Brooks, Sr., married Naomi E. Lewis, also of Alexandria, 51 years ago. In addition to their two sons they have a daughter who is an attorney.
"Some gave all but all gave some," Rochelle said. "Freedom Team Salute honors all sacrifices. But, are we leaving the proper legacy for the next generation?"