KEYSER - “Today we're going to have one hero that is going to honor another,” said TJ Coleman of the Aubrey Stewart Project as friends and family of Clifton E. Brooks Sr. were on hand to unveil a sign recognizing him as a Tuskegee Airman.
By Ronda Wertman
KEYSER - “Today we’re going to have one hero that is going to honor another,” said TJ Coleman of the Aubrey Stewart Project as friends and family of Clifton E. Brooks Sr. were on hand to unveil a sign recognizing him as a Tuskegee Airman.
The sign will be displayed on tMemorial Bridge so all who enter Keyser will remember his excellence.
“We owe them a tremendous debt,” said Coleman of the Tuskegee Airmen. “Freedom must be repurchased by each generation. Our standard has been set for us.
“It’s another great day for you Mr. Brooks. Today you will be properly honored as the man and Tuskegee Airman that you are,” Coleman said.
Coleman asked those in attendance to imagine the pride of the first black officer and the first black pilots, pioneers in aviation who set records that still stand in military history.
“Brooks family, imagine the pride in knowing that your Dad was somewhere in this formation; one of the Tuskegee Airmen. I can only imagine the pride you must feel,” said Coleman.
It was 50 years before the story of the Tuskegee Airmen was told and in 2007 the six surviving members received their Congressional Medals.
Videos capturing the history of the Tuskegee Airmen shared how 70 years ago Tuskegee, Alabama, was “the launching pad for some very special young men. Full of fight and ready to do whatever it took.”
“It was their skills rather than the color of their skin that was tested for these men,” recalled the “Tribute to the Pioneers in Aviation.”
Coleman noted that “history is of no value if we can’t learn from it,” noting that the Tuskegee Airmen taught us about determination, courage and belief in oneself.
“Remember the Tuskegee Airmen. Whatever your dream is, work to make it real and you will succeed,” he added.
Coleman brought greetings from Stuart Brandow, who served with Ed Kelley’s unit and who journeys to Keyser each year for the annual ceremony.
Sending his congratulations, Brandow said that he “can’t wait to come in April to see your sign up on the bridge.”
In his role with the Tuskegee Airmen, Brooks was a cryptologist in charge of receiving and dispersing coded information for the fighter pilots who escorted the bombers.
“He could be trusted with our deepest secrets,” said Coleman, noting that the information was so secret that Brooks was expected to take his own life if he would become captured.
The documentary “Top Guns of the Skies,” described this elite unit as, “the men who risked their lives on the front lines of the skies and held the line to keep the enemy out of our backyards.”
“Just think, one of these special Tuskegee Airman is our neighbor, said Coleman.
Having Brooks’ sign with him during a visit to a nursing home in Cumberland, Coleman noted resident Lester Reall’s firsthand account of the Tuskegee Airmen.
He told Coleman how, “The black pilots saved my life.” He said he never saw them on the ground, but he saw them in the air as they escorted him and other pilots.
“Our entire country owes the men and women of the Tuskegee Airmen and you, Mr. Brooks, a tremendous debt for our freedom,” said Coleman, noting that the sign will serve as beacon to let all who see it know that a military pioneer is here.
Unveiling the sign, which reads “Clifton E. Brooks Sr. Cryptologist. His code was excellence,” Coleman gave Brooks his own smaller version for his home.
In a special presentation, Pat Mason displayed Tuskegee Airmen medals that he secured from the US Mint.
One medal will be on display at Keyser High School, one was presented to Coleman, one to Brooks for his late wife Bessie, and one to each of his eight children, Jacque Washington, Clifton E. Brooks Jr., Apryl Smith, Mickey Brooks, Rick Brooks, Victoria Brooks, Brenda Brooks and Tim Brooks.
“This is unbelievable. None of us are going to forget today,” said Mason as he passed out information for those who would like to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Rick Brooks shared more about his father’s commitment to excellence, noting that he was thorough and tenacious in what he did. “He really did it well,” he said Brooks.
He added that the sign represents all the Tuskegee Airmen who moved on and took pride in their job and their life.
Ted Twyman elaborated more on Brooks’ accomplishments, noting that he was member of Washington Smith Post 152 for 72 years, having served as post commander and district chaplain. “No one else has served that long,” he said.
He added that Brooks was honored as one of the Four Chaplains, is a faithful member of the Janes United Methodist Church, serving as treasurer and lay speaker, and a member of Potomac Lodge 41, serving as past grand master.
Twyman added that Brooks started many traditions which are continuing to this day, including medals at Keyser High School Class Night for members of Boys and Girls State and the annual Memorial Day Service.
On Martin Luther King Day, Brooks would go to churches and schools to recite King’s I Have Dream Speech.
Next to marrying his wife Bessie and his family, one of his greatest accomplishments was being named Kelly Springfield’s Man of the Year during his 40 year career.
It was noted that the red, white and blue afghan Brooks had with him was crocheted by Linda Pyles Rexrode.
In thanks for his efforts, the Brooks family presented Coleman with one of their matching shirts with Brooks’ photo and the saying “Celebrating Our Hero.”
In conclusion, Coleman recalled a protocol assignment while in the Air Force, “God was preparing me way back then to serve others. Service to others is a gift in itself.”